LA TIMES GETS INTO EBOOKS, A REVIEW

The other day someone asked, “What do you think digital publishing’s going to look like in six months?” I said, “Everyone’s going to be doing it.” Media companies, news organizations, movie studios, record labels—digital book production’s going to be as expected as a social media presence. The Guardian, Huffington Post, and the Wall Street Journal already publish their own books—today the L.A. Times released its first title, “A Nightmare Made Real” by reporter Christopher Goffard.

The book’s a Kindle, iBooks, and BN digital short, selling at 99 cents. I purchased it for the Kindle App for iPad and read it on a subway ride from Soho to Carrol Gardens, about 15 minutes. It documents the accusation against Louis Gonzalez III that he kidnapped and sexually assaulted Tracy West, the estranged mother of his son. The facts proved Gonzalez innocent, the evidence suggests West fabricated everything. The book moves along tersely with nice flourishes, such as describing how Gonzales now stares every security camera in the face. He’s constantly looking for third-party confirmation of what he’s doing, in case nobody believes him later.

Goffard originally wrote the story as a two-part piece for the Times this summer. The book enlarges on that, pulls the pieces together, gives the author room to expand. Goffard mentions Kafka twice, and the  story-as-parable stands out in eBook format.

As a book, it works. But there are some lessons for digital publishing.

Discovery: Without following links from press announcements, the book’s hard to find. Search L.A. Times in Amazon and iBooks and you get some Stuart Woods thrillers. I don’t remember the name of the defendant or the accuser and I’m not going to remember the book’s title. As a user, I had a hard time finding the book without help. The L.A. Times needs a landing page for their title, like what Google did for the ZMOT we produced together. And they need it tagged right. Search ‘L.A. Times book’ on Google now and you get their book section.

Cover: If Luis Sinco is on staff, the L.A. Times could get a more iconic image for their first book. Not to knock the photograph, but it’s more of an image sliver than anything that makes an impression. Beyond that, I can’t make out the cover clearly in the digital storefronts. The book needs clean design, and one sharp image. In digital marketplaces, the title always lives next to the cover so you don’t need to worry about cramming everything text-wise onto the face of a jpeg.

Enhancements: Maybe not worth the effort, but the little images affixed at the top of a few chapters could be more nicely integrated. They could add audio clips. It could be interesting if the book ended with a 10 second clip of Gonzales staring into some 7-11’s security camera.

It’s mostly marketplace elements you wish the Times did a little better. And no blame on them, this is a new type of product. The book’s good reporting, in a great format, and it was absolutely easy to dig into and read straight through. It was a way better experience than reading it on a Web page, or on a Web browser saved for later on my iPad.

Good for the L.A. Times for getting this released. With a few more tweaks, we could start seeing “must-book-ify” opportunities become “must-reads” and get the attention the writing and narrative are worth.