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Can eBooks save journalism?

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Recent trends in non-fiction eBook publishing, by Tim Dawson, originally published in the December 2013 edition of The Journalist.

Five years ago, Rupert Colley was a librarian in Enfield with a long-standing dream of creating a series of popular histories that could be consumed in sixty minutes.  After a decade puzzling how he might realise his plan, in the Autumn of 2009 he published a 10,000 word account of the Second World War as an eBook.  Today, his ‘History In An Hour’ imprint has sold over 250,000 bite-sized digests of everything from The Reformation, to Ancient Egypt and The Cold War.

“There have been times when it was manic, but the level of the success of the series has been overwhelming”, he says today.  “My hunch was that there was a real appetite for easily digestible histories, maybe in subject areas that people felt they ought to know about, or in anticipation of a holiday.  ‘History for busy people’ was the slogan I had in my head.”

He is by no means the only person who has found ways to harness the possibilities of eBooks.  Literary publicist Richard Foreman launched Endeavour Press with journalist Mathew Lynn a year and a half ago.  Specialising in genre fiction, history and collections of journalism, they produce eBooks at a rate of eight a week.  ‘Name’ journalists such as Simon Sebag-Montefiorie, Rachel Johnson and William Dalrymple and among their stable; and sales currently run at upwards of 15,000 books a month.

In the US, where the market for short eBooks, or long-form journalism, is more developed, several writers have earned more than £100,000 from ‘Singles’ – Amazon’s short book brand.  Mishka Shubaly, for example, scored an unexpected hit with Shipwrecked (Kindle Single), a true account of a near fatal yachting disaster that he could not fit for any of his regular magazine clients.  He has gone on to write several more successful Singles.

The success of these short eBooks appears to rest on three, related factors: a general thirst for shorter books; ‘cup-of-coffee’ pricing; and technology that brings writing, publishing and purchasing much closer together.

Traditional publishing contracts have tended to insist on 100,000 words for works of fiction and 150,000 for non-fiction – the length of eBooks is immaterial.  And, a little like the market for smart-phone apps, there appears to be a willingness to pay among consumers – so long as the price is negligible.  According to Amazon’s figures, nearly 75% cost $4.99 or less.  Authors typically receive 50 – 70% of the cover price of eBooks, and as the process from finished manuscript to product on sale can take less than an hour, it is easy to see the appeal.

The experience of Rupert Colley, however, suggests that you can’t necessarily expect riches the second that you add your work to Amazon’s vast catalogue, however.  “I started by putting up free-to-read articles on my website to generate some interest”, he explains.  “It took four months after I published my Second World War book before I sold a single copy, though”.  During that time he was busy building interest on his site and through social media.

A year later, however, sales were so strong that HarperCollins offered to buy him out, and retain him to run History In An Hour on behalf of the publishing giant.  Among the more surprising ways that professional backing has helped has been in the development of audio versions of his titles.  Consisting of an actor, reading an abbreviated version of the 10,000-word titles, the resulting products have sold tens of thousands through iTunes.

“Initially I just wrote about what interested me – that is why I did a lot of contemporary history titles,” says Colley.  “I also went with what people offered me – so long as they were competent writers.  Since HarperCollins involvement, I have become more anniversary-driven, but writers still get the same basic percentage of sales revenues”.

Endeavour’s ambitions are even larger.  Foreman happily contemplates the day when his imprint overtakes Penguin.  “We are selling to a global market – a third of our sales are in the US”, he says.  “Of course there is no reason why authors should not publish themselves – but we have expertise in marketing titles and working Amazon’s algorithms to maximum advantage”.  Their greatest success to date has been Foreman’s own, ‘Augustus Son Of Rome’, one of a series of novelisatons of Roman history.  It has sold 12,000 copies to date.  The publisher is also actively pursuing out-of-print works into which he can breathe new life.  AJP Taylor’s War By Timetable has been a recent success.

And Endeavour is not the only one combing back catalogues.  In the US, several publications are now actively republishing classic long-form journalism, among them the New York Review Of Books and The Atlantic.  The latter has been experimenting with eBooks since 2010, says Kimberly Lau, general manager of Atlantic Digital.  “Our focus has been to leverage assets that are unique to The Atlantic – generally best-in-class writing and editing.  Our audience has a seemingly endless appetite for high-quality content”.  Lau won’t disclose sales figures, but says that Daniel Rauch’s ‘Denial’ has ‘significantly exceeded original forecasts”.

The common thread through all of these successes, of course, is Amazon, the global behemoth from which 1.5m eBooks are available and through which 90% of eBook sales are sold.  There are alternatives, of course – iBooks, Nook and Smashwords, for example.  But whatever view you take of Amazon’s corporate practices, selling eBooks without them would be a hard slog.

The mechanism of self-publishing is childishly simple.  Set up an account at Kindle Direct Publishing, and upload a Microsoft Word file of your words – and the job is all but done.  Many of the biggest journalism-eBook-success stories, however, are ‘Kindle Singles’; long-form journalism, published by Amazon itself.  The series editor in the UK is Andrew Rosenheim, a novelist and former managing director of Penguin books.  He advertises that he will consider any original work, between 5,000 and 30,000 words in length as well as reviewing all material that is already published via KDP, with a view to adopting it as a Single.  The royalties split for the author does not change, if your work become a Single – generally speaking you receive 70% of the sale price.  Being a Single, does, however, mean that an eBook is given a lot more profile on Amazon.

Whether the mail-order giant will forever dominate eBook sales is impossible to know.  It would require a wholly unpredictable market shock to reverse the eBook tide, however.  Indeed, pretty much all publishing soothsayers predict that eBooks will be snatching market share from their ink-and-paper counterparts for the foreseeable future.  That may not be unqualified good news.  But for those journalists and writers who do exploit the advantages of ePublishing to sell their work, this a developing market of huge potential.


Written by Tim Dawson

January 4th, 2014 at 8:16 am

Posted in E-books,US

One to Watch: The digital fortunes of The Dish

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

This month saw the launch of a start-up which is being eagerly watched by observers of the media landscape. The Dish – not to be confused with a dreadful Australian film on which I wasted several hours of my life – is the latest venture by Andrew Sullivan, the political blogger who has been dominating the US scene for more than a decade.

An online magazine covering anything from politics to religion and the arts, The Dish is subscription-based, and entirely ad-free. It has already impressed media-watchers with its early success, securing nearly $500 000 before it even officially launched – enough to keep Sullivan’s seven-strong team going for a year.

Sullivan’s journey in getting to this point – a tale he tells in this piece in The Australian – is instructive. A political blogger since 2000, he wrote unpaid for some six years, building an online readership of around a million a month. Then, seeing the appeal of his readership to advertisers, he cut deals with Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Publishing his blog on their websites helped them to build their digital readership, and gave him a share of the healthy advertising revenues.

As the digital revolution spread and advertisers became pickier, revenues fell. Sullivan’s little blog-craft – by now he had acquired business partners – looked in danger of running aground. Yet the period of financial success had clearly demonstrated the readers’ appetite for quality journalism. So he decided to cut out the advertising man and ask readers to pay for the content they loved directly.

The Dish is based on the freemium model, with the blog acting as the taster, while access to more in-depth material requires a subscription of $19.99. But is the model sustainable? Writing on the media startup Pandodaily, Hamish McKenzie raises doubts, pointing out that following the initial burst of enthusiasm Sullivan’s subscriptions have already slowed considerably. ‘If his rate for converting unique visitors to paid subscribers is the same as the New York Times’ – about 1 percent – then revenue from readers alone simply won’t be enough,’ he says.

As McKenzie points out, the bigger media players in the US are watching the Sullivan experiment with interest because its ‘leaky meter’ model so closely resembles their own. But the future fortunes of The Dish have a wider importance. Inspired by a clear vision about the value and purposes of journalism, it embodies much of which has always characterised good journalism: ‘I wrote a blog every day purely out of fascination with the idea of reaching readers without any editor or proprietor interfering,’ writes Sullivan of his early blogging years. ‘I did it free – because the editorial freedom was worth it.’

Now he is hoping that readers, too, will recognise the value of editorial independence to the extent that they are prepared to pay for it regularly. ‘There was something honest and real about asking readers to pay me to write,’ says Sullivan of his decision to The Dish. ‘No agent will take a cut; no editor can complain.’

It’s a purity of aspiration echoed by the editor of Canadian start-up Best Story Warren Perley, who resolutely insists that the future of quality journalism is reader-funded and advertising-free. And there are many other media pioneers out there who share the same high-minded approach which blends old-fashioned journalistic ideals with the realities of the digital age.

The Dish has the other ingredients – the distinct editorial vision, a personality, if you like – that have always characterised the most successful publications, and have more recently been redefined as the elusive ‘relationship’ with readers by digital development guys in big media organisations. The key question, as for many other online experiments, remains: will the readers buy it?

Alex is no longer blogging here, but tweets about media and publishing matters @alexklaushofer.

Written by Alex

February 14th, 2013 at 7:26 am

More heat than light in the debate about UK press regulation

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Report by Tim Dawson

The continuing discussion of the Leveson Inquiry proposals has thrown up a number of abiding mysteries – which were sharply highlighted, but entirely unresolved by at the Soho Sceptics meeting last night at London’s Conway Hall.

To consider the case for regulation of the press defined in statute, Nick Cohen and Suzanne Moore (against) faced Natalie Fenton and Evan Harris (for). Neither side had much new to say.  Cohen and Moore (columnists on The Observer and The Guardian respectively) argued that any regulation would tend to lead to government interference in the media, that newspapers were on their way out, that outrages that sparked Leveson were illegal anyway and that in an era when ‘anyone can be a journalist’ newspapers should be no more regulated than bloggers.

Fenton and Harris (Goldsmiths academic and former Liberal Democrat MP) tried to persuade the capacity audience of over 300 that a form of regulation was possible that would not inhibit free speech, that the BBC was evidence of this and that the lack of plurality in the British media was a far more pressing issue than control of a narrow elite.

As theatre, the juxtaposition was intriguing.  Cohen and Moore were passionate and combustible and were worth listening to just for their off-the-cuff curios.  Cohen asserted that ‘Murdoch and Dacre are  on their way out, yesterday’s men’.  Its an odd contention from a writer so closely associated with a media organisation that has shown the catastrophic commercial ineptitude of The Guardian/Observer.  Still, if Moore is right that what sells newspapers is sport, horoscopes and her opinions, then all she need do is add some astrological element to her columns and Alan Rusbridger can abandon his current plans to sack a fifth of the journalists working at Kings Place.

Their opponents cool, and apparently forensic approach was considerably less fun – but my impression was that speaking to an audience in which there were but but a handful of journalists, they had the larger part of the room on their side.

Like the antis, however, they did this without mention of a single scrap of evidence to demonstrate the effects, baleful or otherwise, of press regulation, however it is organised.  There are press councils in around sixty other countries, but their work went unmentioned.  Both sides quoted from the US constitution, but neither shared any knowledge of how this impacts on that country’s media.

In the Republic of Ireland, for example, the country that is most like the UK, there is a press council, underwritten by statute.  Some aspect of its work might have provided the killer blow for either side, but like the rest of the Leveson debate, the panelists preferred argument from first principles rather than dipping into the murky waters of empiricism.

At the end of the debate, the capable chair, Helen Lewis from The New Statesman, asked the audience how many had changed their minds are as a result of the debate – perhaps a dozen raised their hands.  That’s hardly surprising.  If the platform speakers demonstrated anything, this is a debate in which neither side is listening to the other.


Written by Tim Dawson

January 18th, 2013 at 7:51 am

Animal Magic – photo app sells in the thousands

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Case study by Tim Dawson

Perusing Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols’ iPad app is to see his famed work for National Geographic come alive.  There are more than 30 galleries of pictures from assignments over the past three decades, videos and expedition mementos, all are presented with the kind of slick quality that one might expect from National Geographic itself.

And yet this is not from the stable at the venerable American title, but from the photographer himself.  “If you’re going to look at my work, I really want it to be an ‘environment’ and with the app I could control that”, he explains.  “An app meant no gutters, no clutter, no ads—so you could make something beautiful. That’s what it evolved out of. I didn’t set out to have an app. I set out to come up with a paid content experiment.”

It is available from Apple’s app store for $3.99 – about the same as a copy of National Geographic on for the same platform.  And, as with most sales through the iStore, Apple takes 30% of the purchase price.  Nichols was able to publish his work in this way because, although he has been on National Geographic’s staff since 1996, and is currently the magazine’s editor-at-large, he shares copyright in his works with his employer.  Developing the app took around a year and was largely undertaken by Greg Harris of the Daily Interactive and Nichols studio manager Jenna Pirog.

Nichols won’t be drawn on the actual cost of developing the app.  He does confirm, however, that since its launch in July, it has sold nearly 3,000 copies.  The target has always been around 5,000 – the level of sales at which he says that he would consider his previous books of photography a success.

What his app shows beyond question is how fabulous photography can look on an iPad.  The luminous quality that the Apple device’s screens add to still images is wonderful – although, obviously, the lustre that this to images diminishes the more used to it viewers become.  Less certain is whether this publishing model is one that might be emulated by others.  Nichols acknowledges that he can only undertake his work because it is financed by his employer.

Notwithstanding that, as the skills in creating apps proliferate and the take up of tablet computers spreads, there is much in this model that could be copied.  Apple’s hermitically-sealed world might annoy some, but, apps offer a level of digital rights management that will reassure many of those who make their living from controlling use of their images.  And, even if selling photographs as apps might not provide sufficient funds on which to retire, the combination of usefulness as a portfolio, sales revenue with a long tail, and potentially very low start-up costs, should make this an attractive route to self-publishing for an increasing number of photographers.


Written by Tim Dawson

September 24th, 2012 at 10:21 am

Posted in iPad apps,US

Narratively: long, slow journalism from The City that Never Sleeps

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

The new longform website Narratively has attracted interest ‘beyond our wildest dreams’, according to founder Noah Rosenberg. Even before its launch earlier this month, coverage of the New York-based magazine has been wide, while expressions of support have come via social media from around the world.

Such enthusiasm, thinks Rosenberg, is a measure of the appetite for in-depth storytelling not dictated by the 24/7 news agenda, and of a desire to get under the skin of a city such as New York which could easily be replicated in other parts of the world.

‘I’ve realised we have a readership which is beyond our base in New York,’ he says. ‘There are people who want the “slow journalism” approach'”.

The finance for the first six months came via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Rosenberg looked at other quality journalism projects and saw that longform science journalism project Matter, for example, hit its $50 000 target within a few days.

Rosenberg decided to adopt a similar approach for the start-up, and $53 000 was raised for Narratively. Meanwhile, the fundraising process created considerable publicity: ‘It’s not just a way to generate the money,’ he says. ‘It’s also a way to generate a tremendous amount of exposure.’

Narratively backers can choose from a series of packages which give you more involvement the more you pay. $10, for example, buys the opportunity to vote on the themes to be covered during the launch period, while for $10 000 the Narratively team will fly out and spend a week covering ‘under-the-radar human-interest stories from the location of your choice’. (No one, so far, has gone for this.) In between, are a range of packages which include dining events, customised products and the services of a photojournalist.

The Kickstarter appeal secured around 800 backers, a number of whom, Rosenberg admits, are close friends and family. The rest are made up of journalists passionate about the project and consumers looking forward to a good, in-depth read. The pledges he’s proudest to have secured, he says, are the lowest amounts, indicating a vote of confidence from those who don’t have much cash.

The project has been in-the-gestation for the past couple of years, as Rosenberg has gradually been getting other media professionals on board. Weekly editorial meetings in a New York cafe have attracted a dozen to forty journalists all keen to contribute. To date, no one has been paid for their work, including Rosenberg, who has been supporting himself on a modest freelance income supplemented by savings.

But from now on, he says, contributors will be paid ‘a few hundred dollars a piece’, a rate which he hopes will rise to the level of the fees paid in the freelance marketplace.

How far is this is feasible will depend on the success of the three-pronged business model designed to sustain Narratively after the first six months. Discussions with advertisers begin this week. Then comes the possibility of syndication to a global media prepared to pay for high-quality content about The Big Apple. But the key plank is to be a premium membership/subscription package which will buy readers access to exclusive content such as a monthly ebook, interactive city guides, and live storytelling events.

The scheme is designed to create the ‘sense of community’ – aka brand relationship – between publication and readership that has long been at the heart of established media, while quietly selling non-editorial products as part of the package.

Further down the road, Rosenberg envisages an occasional print edition and expansion into other cities.

What’s not to like? As is so often the case in this brave new world of media pioneers, the editorial aspirations are laudable and there is doubtless an appetite among readers for what the Narratively team can produce. It remains to be seen whether the money will follow.

Written by Alex

September 17th, 2012 at 7:51 am

UK hyperlocals suffer from grantfunders’ fixation on innovation

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UK hyperlocals suffer from grantfunders' fixation on innovation

Comment by Alex Klaushofer.

Earlier this month, the lottery-funded charity Nesta announced the successful bidders for its new grant programme Destination Local. Ten winners emerged out of the 165 hyperlocal projects who applied for funds, including Welsh language paper Papur Dre and The Kentishtowner, an online north London magazine. Each project will receive up to £50,000 to develop and test prototypes for new technology platforms, especially mobile devices, thus contributing to the new generation of hyperlocal media services.

This is undeniably good news. The burgeoning of the hyperlocal sector in recent years clearly demonstrates the appetite of both its readers and new breed of publisher-editors for in-depth, engaged news and information for local communities. But the sector has been stymied by the lack of a revenue model, with profitable operations such as the Filton Voice very much the exception, while others, such as the Saddleworth News, simply die of starvation. Meanwhile, with the Guardian giving up on its own hyperlocal experiment, big media organisations are faring no better.

In the middle are the majority of hyperlocals – community projects often very successful in editorial terms and much-loved by their readers, but sustained largely by the goodwill and passion of those who run them. For now. Consequently, most face a very uncertain future.

The UK is behind the States in this respect. With leading funders such as the Knight Foundation, the US not-for-profit sector has invested over a billion dollars in quality journalism over the past decade.

But with its marked focus on innovation, the Nesta grant programme follows in the footsteps of the well-established UK lottery tradition of supporting the new at the expense of the simply good. I know this, because for years I covered the lottery and funding worlds, often speaking to grant applicants and the frustrated heads of small charities and community groups. A clear pattern emerged from their attempts to secure funding: with continual pressure to show that projects were ‘innovative’, a few skewed their work towards the obviously ‘new’. But the overall result was that services of proven benefit to the community – even those that had been ‘new’ five years ago – often fell by the wayside, as the funding machine rolled on to support the next shiny new idea.

This potted history of the British grant-funding scene may hold a lesson for community-focused media start-ups. For, out of the YouTube pitches thoughtfully collated by Nesta to add to the growing body of emerging practice, it is clear that some deserving projects never stood a chance of funding because of the programme’s focus on technological innovation. Take the case of the award-winning Ventnor Blog, for example. Despite establishing itself at the heart of the community, the six-year-old site still does not provide its mid-career husband-and-wife team with a viable living.

Or take Port Talbot Magnet – not, as far as I know, an applicant for Nesta funding – effectively surviving off the PhD funding of one of the cooperative’s members. In an interview with the Online Journalism Blog, Rachel Howells cites the biggest challenge to date as the lack of funding; not one of the seven directors are in a position to give the website the time it needs to develop and become sustainable.

Perhaps we should admit that, for once, our American cousins have the longer view.

Written by Alex

July 16th, 2012 at 7:24 am

Video is the crowd puller of the future

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Report by: Tim Dawson

Staci Perry – a knitting instructor from Austin, Texas – might not sound like the most typical new media entrepreneur.  But she has used her instructional videos on YouTube to attract 10,000 subscribers, who have viewed her content more than three million times.  Not only that, but the videos act as a spur to promote sales of the $8 knitting patterns that she sells via her website

“The videos are an instrumental part of my business”, Perry told the Austin Business Journal.  “The idea is to give and give – and take a very little.   Eventually, the take will be substantial, and that’s how I am making a living off this.

Her technique is simple.  She makes videos explaining technical tips and tricks for knitters.  She has evolved camera technique that allows views to see her from both the front, and a larger view looking down at the work in hand.  These packages are then embedded into the frequently updated page on the VeryPink website.  Some viewers come to the site direct, others find Perry’s content by searching YouTube.

She is one of a burgeoning new world of content producers whose main route to market is via video channels.  Daisy Whitney is another.  Four years ago she started producing NewMediaMinute, a personal, online newscast covering the internet video business.  Each edition typically featured an industry expert talking about an aspect of their business as part of a short package for which Whitney provided a studio-shot intro and outro.

Whitney’s success has been such that she now has paying jobs working as a new media correspondent for several outlets, including TV Week, Media Post and several others, as well as securing a book deal with Little Brown to publish her fiction.  As a result she says that she has produced her last NewMediaMinute.

Some think that even this kind of success is just the tip on the iceberg.  Cisco Systems estimates that 90% of web traffic will be driven by video by the end of 2013.  The reason for this, they argue, is because video is so easy to syndicate.  Printed words appear on just one site – from a single location, video can be embedded in dozens, or hundreds of locations, including social media sites, such as Facebook. Video also more immediate than the printed word, is easier to differentiate from the written word and works better on mobile devices.

Perry and Witney’s trajectories show two of the uses to which this potential can be put – one, direct sales, the other the creation of a media brand that allowed Witney’s career to develop in new ways.  Other video entrepreneurs have gone further and created entire web-based television programs.  Jesse Draper’s Valley Girl Show, for example, comes in fifteen minute packages and generally features entrepreneurs, mostly from the new media, being interviewed by Draper in her ditzy ‘valley girl’ persona.

Now into its fourth season, the Valley Girl Show is shot on a mobile studio that Draper and business partner Jonathan Polenz transport in a U Haul trailer.  Initial funding for the project came from an acting job that Draper had on childrens’ tv and while Valley Girl is reported not to have made any real money yet, Draper says that it pays for itself with advertising, merchandise and related websites.

Whether it will facilitate her ultimate ambition to take her idea to regular tv remains to be seen, but for a Californian actress in her mid-20s, she has already made quite a splash.  She has also demonstrated that as the costs of entry to video program making have tumbled, it becomes ever more possible for anyone to be famous for fifteen minutes – even if Perry, Whitney and Draper’s experience suggests, that the acquisition of such celebrity still requires a good deal of hard work.


Written by Tim Dawson

May 21st, 2012 at 7:26 am

Posted in Broadcasting,US

Cultural inertia threatens newspaper revenues

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New research from the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism lays bare the struggle being endured by existing print media and it tries to reposition its business for a digital age.  On the promise on anonymity, Pew researchers persuaded 38 newspapers (mostly in the US), from six different companies, to share a significant body of internal data.

With exceptions, the picture that emerges is this.  For every $1 that these papers gained from new digital ventures, they lost $7 from traditional print revenue.   Some lost revenue from both sources last year.  As well as crunching a lot of figures, the Pew researchers also interviewed many senior executives –and the picture that emerges from them is as fascinating as it is depressing.

For the moment, the bulk of newspaper revenue comes from traditional print sources.  Having long enjoyed local advertising monopolies, their business operations find it difficult to turn their attention from the large, if declining receipts from this source.  Digital income might be growing, but until it forms a larger proportion of those newspapers’ incomes, it is unlikely to be the focus of their activity.

The risks of waiting for this to happen, however, are considerable – as David Parkin has shown with  He was able to attract advertisers from his old employer The Yorkshire Post, with a dramatically cheaper ratecard and the absolutely dependable metrics of click-through.  Pew characterise the ‘heritage’ media as suffering ‘cultural inertia’ when trying to shift the focus of their businesses.

There are glimmers of light in the Pew report.  One of the papers that generated most digital revenue, was selling targeted digital advertising that was customised around customers online behaviour.  The company in question considered this to be its biggest likely growth area – but was the only one of the 38 papers selling this kind of smart advertising.

Another company was buttressing its traditional newspaper business with a consulting business to help its advertisers and other businesses to position themselves in the digital landscape.

The scale of the mountain that newspapers need to climb can be gauged from The Guardian’s sometimes frenetic efforts to dramatically grow its digital revenue – after a decade of trying.  Its latest volley of initiatives, including massive above-the-line brand advertising, Facebook apps, and a version of the newspaper being offered on tv.  These come with the stated ambition of doubling the £45m revenue that the paper currently generates online.  Given that GMG, The Guardian’s holding company, made trading losses of £46.2m in 2009/10, the urgency of this task is obvious.

No doubt more newspapers will survive the next decade that some naysayers allow for.  I suspect that the ones that are most likely to endure will be those that transform their businesses so completely that they are scarcely recognisable to those who know them in their current forms.


Written by Tim Dawson

March 12th, 2012 at 7:45 am

From frontline to publication – the rise of news e-books

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Report by Alex Klaushofer.

It’s comforting, if you’re in the words business, to remember that ‘crisis’ denotes ‘turning point’, a phase of breakdown prior to resolution, as well as the more common meaning of a bad time. And now, with the line between book publishing and journalism becoming increasingly blurred, comes evidence that new opportunties for journalists are opening up in the expanding world of e-books.

This month brings the latest development in this emerging trend, in the form of a new initiative launched by non-profit news outlet ProPublica and digital publisher Open Road Integrated Media. In the partnership, ProPublica is releasing another tranche of its investigative work in e-book form, including its Presidential Pardons series, material that was originally published in The Washington Post.

The organisation joins a growing number of US publishers who are exploiting the relative cheapness and ease of digital publication to bring in-depth, long-form journalism to a wider audience.

Last October US publishers Politico opened an online bookstore in partnership with publishers Random House, allowing titles to be sold through retailers such as Amazon. The titles, says editor-in-chief John Harris, offer readers a combination of ‘great minds and writers in political journalism and publishing’.

A similar venture is being developed by Random House and Collca in the Brain Shots series, covered previously on this site.

Publishing journalism as e-books allows publishers to venture into territory such as last summer’s riots that were hitherto off-limits because the long lead-in times of traditional publishing meant that, by the time the more newsy books came out, the moment had passed.

Yet, while the attractions of the new model are obvious, it does present challenges, not least the question of how to legitimise charging for material that has already been published. One obvious selling point is the convenience of having material brought together and edited into a single format, in the way that newspapers and authors have often served up anthologies of particularly successful columns in book form.

But the e-book, lacking the tangible virtue of a physical object, has to do more. So the new publishers are seeking out extra content like videos, maps and interviews with journalists, to add value to the product. One such ‘enhanced book’ is Behind the Beautiful Forevers, in which Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo follows the child-residents of Bombay slums as they scrape a living by sorting and selling rubbish. The e-book package includes video footage, shot by the children themselves, over three years of reporting.

Yet, as the new model gets more established, journalists may increasingly ask themselves whether they wouldn’t be better off by cutting out the middle man. Just as more and more authors are concluding they are now able to do for themselves what only a traditional publisher used to do – and with less cost and delay – the next phase may see journalists going it alone.

One example to watch is Marc Herman, a freelance journalist whose self-published book on Libya has been hitting the top few per cent of sales in Kindle Singles. In this interview about the nuts and bolts of the experiment, Herman reveals himself to be a model of the new entrepreneurial hack, prepared not just to go out and get the story, but to bring it to market too.

The next frontier in long-form journalism may be a lonely, but exciting one.

Written by Alex

February 20th, 2012 at 4:03 am

Posted in E-books,News,US

Amazon’s bid to run libraries, and how authors might benefit

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Report by Tim Dawson.

Public Lending Right – the scheme that pays authors when their books are borrowed from public libraries – has long been a life-saver for impecunious scribblers. Little wonder then that when, earlier this month, the government announced its intention cut the benefit paid per book issue from 6.25 pence to 6.05 pence that authors howled in dismay.

Regrettable as this move is, could there be other ways by which the library model might benefit creators of books? Amazon certainly thinks so.  It is the major shareholder in, which claims to have 1.5m members who pay a monthly subscription to hire dvds by mail to watch screened films.  Of far more interest to authors, however, is the Kindle Owners Lending Library, launched in the USA in November and expected to come to the UK in the near future.

Membership is based on Amazon’s ‘prime member’ scheme, which costs $79 a year in the US and £49 in the UK.  For UK subscribers, the benefits from membership are limited to free-at-the-point-of-sale express delivery. On the other side of the Atlantic, members can ‘borrow’ up to one title a month on their Kindles. Over 75,000 titles are available to borrow, a large number of which have been ‘self-published’ via Kindle Direct Publishing.

A monthly royalty is paid to authors based on the number of times that the book has been ‘borrowed’. Those authors who grant Amazon the exclusive right to publish their works, also benefit from an additional ‘KDP Select’ bonus, which could see a book that was borrowed 1,500 times netting $7,500 in lending royalties alone. In creating this bonus, Amazon is clearly trying to establish itself as the first choice for self-publishers.

Launched in December, the additional fund is already causing at least some authors to celebrate.  Carolyn McCray, for example, writes ‘paranormal romance novels’ and earned $8,250 from the KPD Select Fund in the last month of 2011. Rachel Yu, a 16-year-old author of childrens’ books, earned $6,200.  And they were by no means the only success stories – more than 295,000 KDP select titles were borrowed from Kindle’s library in December, its first full month of operation.

‘Lending’ royalties have averaged around 30% of these authors’ total royalties from Kindle. And those authors who have consented to their works being available for loan as well as for sale appear to have boosted the number of copies sold by an average of 26% compared to those who did not participate in the library scheme.

Hopeful though it is to identify a fresh source of income that should benefit authors, of course, the success of virtual libraries can only be another nail in the coffin of actual libraries. As more and more regular book readers find other means of satisfying their habits and thereby abandon municipal facilities, the case for the latter will inevitably be weakened. Whether Amazon’s royalties prove to be any more dependable than Pubic Lending Right, which the government appear able to vary on a whim, remains to be seen.


Written by Tim Dawson

January 23rd, 2012 at 4:15 am

Posted in E-books,US