Newspapers as ebook publishing houses

The rise of the ebook industry over the last several years has newspapers and the publishing worlds colliding. Whether from a desire to bring back the fading art of long-form journalism, or a need for alternative revenue streams, newspapers serving as ebook publishers appear to be an upward trend.

Earlier this week, the one-year anniversary of the Los Angeles Times’ release of its first ebook came to pass. On Nov. 14 last year, “A Nightmare Made Real” by Chistopher Goffard became available for purchase. The ebook is based on a series of articles by the Times reporter, who wrote a two-part series last summer on Louis Gonzalez III, a man wrongfully convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child.

“As a content company, we are enthusiastic about harnessing new mediums and business models that expand the reach of our unique story-telling,” said Times President Kathy Thomson in a press release at the time of the book’s debut. “The immediacy of ebook publishing allows us to easily adapt Times coverage to a convenient reader experience that’s being heavily embraced.” Since then, the Times has also published “Titanic: 100 Years Later,” from the newspaper’s archives, as well as several other titles and two holiday recipe ebooks.

In August, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s “In the Footsteps of Little Crow” by Curt Brown made the New York Times ebook bestseller list at number 13. According to PaidContent, Brown was given a four-month break by the Star Tribune to put together the tale of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. The book was released the same day the first article ran in the paper, giving impatient readers interested in the topic incentive to purchase the ebook, which features the story in full, for $2.99.

Also this summer, Digital Books announced a partnership with the Washington Post to publish a series of ebooks, with content coming from the paper’s archives. “The Original Watergate Stories” and “The Bryce Harper Story” went on sale for $4.99 this summer. Then in October, the paper released “Obama: The Evolution of a President” and “The Hunt for Bin Laden.”

In partnership with Agate Publishing, the Chicago Tribune has released more than a dozen ebooks based on stories from the Tribune as well as the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe has also has a number of ebooks available, including a repackaging of sports columns and a quarterly cook book.

As newspapers re-monetize old content and promote enterprise reporting, could ebook publishing serve as a legitimate revenue stream? David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group, says yes. “The days of five-part series special reports have gone the way of the Olympia manual typewriter. Newspapers can’t justify devoting that much space to their already shrinking pages. So it only seems logical to take advantage of ebook publishing and give those well-researched and reported stories the space they need to be developed,” he said. “It may take a while to catch on, but I think it is probably a good investment in the long term. I go to the gym and I see everyone with their Kindle or some other ebook reader they have in front of them while they are on the stationary bike. Sometimes I think a well-written newspaper enterprise piece is a lot easier to get through than some novels.”

But this isn’t just a newspaper trend, it’s an industry trend. The New Yorker, Huffington Post, Politico and ABC News are outlets that have also gotten into the ebook publishing business. As digital continues to be a popular platform for both literature and news, we will most likely see other organizations taking on the likes of publishing houses everywhere.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

Katrina M Mendolera

Katrina Mendolera took the helm of inVocus as editor in chief in 2009, and has been running the site ever since. She initially joined Vocus as a senior media researcher for newspaper content in 2007. Prior to that, Katrina worked in daily and weekly newspapers. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In her free time, she also serves as an editor for Booktrope Publishing. Her first novel, Fractured Dream, is due out in June 2014. Email: krandall(at)vocus.com.

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