Posted on February 25th, 2012 1 comment
I’ve been invited to participate in the latest Carnival of Journalism, a monthly blogfest in which journalists are invited to post about the same topic. This month’s question, posed by Steve Outing’s Digital News Test Kitchen, is:
“What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”
Anyone who follows my user-contributed content experiments can guess my answer, but they may not guess the entire answer.
The most obvious first answer is my mind is “eBooks!” For the last year and a half I’ve run a startup called BookBrewer that makes it easy for anyone to create and publish eBooks. The eBook market has been growing at a 300% annual rate for several years now, and it’s only destined to keep up that rate if not exceed it.
The last study of sales from the International Digital Publishing Forum and Association of American Publishers showed eBook sales generating $120 million a quarter. That was 18 months ago, and since tablet ownership doubled from December 2011 and January 2012, it’s safe to assume that quarterly eBook sales are at least in the $300 million range.
I’ve been urging journalists to hop on this trend since November of 2010 (see my original post about that on this blog). I suggested a few topics that would work well as books, including multipart investigative series, stories about major events, “news you can use” and collections of columns by popular columnists.
But now thanks to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, I have an even better suggestion. Leverage the intense interest of your local sports fans to create not just sports eBooks, but full-color Print on Demand commemorative editions. And make those available as Print on Demand titles.
Here’s the story of the Post’s Tim Tebow book. If you think about how this could be done at dozens, if not hundreds of other newspapers around the country, the amount of revenue generated could be significant. It may even save a few journalists from getting laid off.
In January, we kicked off a relationship with The Denver Post that allows them to use our services to publish eBooks and Print on Demand. They said they wanted to do something about Tim Tebow, but weren’t sure how the book would end since the Broncos’ season was still underway.
In a previous era they would have waited until the the Broncos season was over (read: the Broncos had lost their last game), and then spent a few weeks editing a book of stories about the season. They’d make a deal with a local printer to print up thousands of copies on offset presses at an average of $30,000 for the run. They’d get a bunch of boxes of books that they’d then have to sell — usually for $30 or more — and when the interest waned, they’d need to lower the price and sell the remainders at a loss.
We told them that all of that goes away with Print on Demand. We gave the Post a URL that allowed them to take money up front as a preorder. This allowed the Post editors to finish writing and editing the story, and creating a nice print layout. Their online teams promoted a splash page about the book from their web site and social media channels.
And boy, did the sales ever start to come in! The actual figures are confidential, but I’m allowed to say that the total sales now are over 2,500 — most of that for the printed book — and the Post will be getting a first check in the high thousands. Unlike in the past when the Post had to put money down which they then scurried to make up, this time they put nothing down and generated a profit from the outset.
You can see how the sales followed the remaining Broncos game schedule here:
In early February, the final PDF came over from the Post, and the first copies were shipped to customers. For those print geeks out there, they were printed on a state of the art HP T300 variable digital printer run by our print partner Frederic Printing (a division of Consolidated Graphics) at a cost to the post of a little more than $15 per copy (or around $4 profit per copy to the Post, given the $19.99 consumer price). Because the orders are printed and shipped as each order comes in, there’s no need to use more expensive offset printers that require thousands to be printed up front. That leads to a lot of cost savings, less hassle and higher overall profits.
From this experiment we’ve learned that the keys to success are:
- A topic that the newspaper knows its audience is interested in.
- Good content, either original or curated into chapters, that reads well in book form.
- Good cover design and visuals.
- High level promotion from the newspapers’ web sites and social media channels.
When all of those stars align, you end up with a great information product that makes readers happy, and also makes money.
And here’s an interesting note on the so-called “eBook revolution.” We also converted the PDFs into eBooks and distributed them to all the major eBook retailers. But for at least this book, the print sales have consistently outpaced the eBook sales by a 3 to one ratio.
Thus, the second trend is one that I never expected. Print is far from dead — it’s just going through a wardrobe change. You never know if someone will prefer an eBook or print book, but the common denominator between them both is on-demand publishing.
Posted on November 28th, 2007 No comments
I’ve been amazed this week as my mailbox exploded with e-mails from the Poynter Institute’s Online-News discussion group about Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader. And this is right after a holiday when a lot of people are still on vacation. Usually that quiets lists down. Not this time!
What started the discussion was someone posing the question of whether the Kindle can save newspapers. Pretty much everyone on that list responded with “no” (a position which I completely agree with), but I’ve been surprised to see how many list members are downright bashing the Kindle before even trying it out. And this is from a group of mostly online newspaper people who you would think would at least consider some of the new opportunities Amazon is unleashing. I recall similar myopic thinking among that group about Second Life.
Without naming names, some of the criticism includes:
- The Kindle is big, bulky, not sexy and dull (translation: low rating on the techno-porn meter).
- Good grief, not another e-reader. Didn’t those die back in 1998?
- Why would I spend $400 to read books electronically on top of buying the books? How many books could that buy?
- A better device would do X, Y, Z.
- It doesn’t let me read books in places and situations where I normally wouldn’t or couldn’t read them.
Those are all good points, but in my opinion they’re missing two other points that trump them all.
First, the real value of what Amazon is doing is that it’s tying its warehouse, digital delivery infrastructure and commerce engine to consumer electronics.
I suspect that the Kindle device itself is simply a way for Amazon to seed the market and test out on-demand delivery of paid “print” content. When it cracks the code, it will open that infrastructure up to other devices (and who knows, maybe even reader-friendly phones like the iPhone and Treo). This is based on what they’ve done with Amazon Unbox videos, which uses the same infrastructure as Kindle books. I can buy Unbox content on my TiVo, which I love since I seem to be the last person on the planet to not use Netflix.
Second, there appears to be a strong “citizen publishing” aspect to the Kindle. According to this Motley Fool story, anyone can make their books available for sale and download on the Kindle — and I suspect any other device that Amazon integrates with. Amazon will take 65% of the sale price. That may sound like a lot, but given that most self-publishers currently pay to print books and often end up spending more than they make (if they make anything at all), a 35% margin on sweat equity is pretty compelling.
I don’t think we’ll see an explosion of self-publishers on the Kindle overnight, or even on the Kindle at all. But as always, the concept has longer legs than the actual product. I think Amazon is starting something that will evolve, catch on and fundamentally change how we think about printed media.
And just the fact that so many people are sharing opinions about the Kindle after a holiday week says a lot. There’s something there.