Posted on December 4, 2013 in Archive

The tale of how newspapers started publishing ebooks


There’s no denying, this is an interesting time for the publishing and news industry. We have seen lots of crossovers between platforms, much experimentation and a whole lot of discussion on where the industry in general is headed. Here’s one combination of format and written word that I hadn’t considered so far – newspapers getting into the ebooks game.

From out of nowhere, this move seems to be selling fairly well for the newspapers giving it a go. Multiple newspapers in the U.S.A. have done it in a variety of ways, which signals to me that they are having a real go at experimentation with the format and way that newspapers are traditionally circulated – which can only be a good thing, really.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has decided to publish in-house, rather than going through a digital or traditional publisher. “Giving up the Ghost”, a fictional serialised book, is what got the editor excited about the prospect of ebooks. Doing a daily serialisation on ebooks is also probably more likely to keep consumers reading than doing the same thing in print – fans can now just download the next instalment from their couch instead of heading to the newsagent every single day. A cookbook containing various recipes for cookies has also been a consistent seller, thanks to the marketability of the ebook – it was first sold during the holiday season with success, and was brought out again the following Mother’s Day as a gift idea. Their third venture was what convinced them that the ‘ebook by newspapers’ idea was a worthwhile one. The Star Tribune released “In the Footsteps of Little Crow” in six parts as a narrative history of a Dakota leader in the 19th century. The series ended up on the New York Times ebook bestseller list, and also did extremely well in the Apple bookstore.

Other newspapers are turning already published articles in ebooks, as it gives them a chance to expand upon an already discussed topic for a new audience. “Snow Fall” (which I’ve mentioned previously) was such a publication, as well as stories from The Atlantic, The Times and The Post. “Denial” was also an editorial piece originally found in The Atlantic that was later turned into a memoir by Jonathan Rauch about his struggle with his identity.

Liquid State - Newspapers publishing ebooks

Maybe newspapers could start packaging old newspaper headlines into ebooks for the history buffs!

Publishing house Byliner has been a major collaborator for several large American publications such as Esquire, New York magazine and The Times. According to Byliner, most of the works being published outside of newspapers are original works, rather than expanded upon or works compiled from previously published articles. Vook has also partnered with The New York Times to publish curated selections of articles from the newspaper archive that are “assembled into compelling narratives about a particular topic or event.” This seems to me to be the newspaper version of attempting a “Best Of The Eighties” album to revive profits. But hey, whatever works.

In-house publishing seems to be key for a lot of these newspapers, as it allows fast publication and many of the collaborators needed for an ebook to be published are already on-staff – artists, editors, designers and photographers, as examples. The Boston Globe’s assistant managing editor, Dan Zedek, believes that ebooks represent work that The Globe is already renowned for. “It positions us almost to be a regional publishing company in the same way that we’re a regional newspaper.”

An interesting note to be made though, is the lack of available financial figures on the profitability of these kinds of ventures. Are these projects actually making the newspapers money, or is it simply just experimentation and expansion into different formats for a change of scenery? It’s not unreasonable to imagine that some newspapers could use ebooks as a way to get more consumers across a wider scope aware of their brand, which would be a bonus in itself. The market is definitely open to it, so it must be the right time for many of these newspapers to take advantage.