Turning newspapers into ebooks: Part 2

by Simon Collinson on

Yesterday, in “Turning Newspapers into Ebooks: Part 1,” we went through the reasons news organizations should consider creating ebooks from their archived content. Today, we're looking at a few examples and how the process of creating the ebooks works.

Select your topics

Compared with many content creators, newspapers are fortunate in that they usually have wide and deep archives to draw upon. In selecting topics, think about your strengths as a publication and the topics which might interest your readers. Some of the popular topics for successful newspapers’ ebooks have been:

  • Historical events
  • Economics
  • Popular columns
  • Financial and career advice
  • The careers of actors and sportspeople
  • Cooking
  • Politics

To create their ebooks, The Boston Globe gathered recipes, columns by their great sportswriter Bob Ryan, and pieces of art criticism by Sebastian Smee. The Wall Street Journal took a similar approach, including popular columnists, a recap of a WSJ conference, and a compilation of articles on a specific topic (check out “The End of Yesterday’s News”, where we look in detail at a few of their ebooks).

Create a publication calendar

Next, you should think about when you’ll publish your first selection of ebooks, and how often you’ll add new titles to the series. The New York Times launched with 25 titles late last year, and has added new titles to the series on a regular basis since then. When planning your calendar, try to account for foreseeable marketing opportunities, such as the anniversaries of major historical events, seasons and holidays, and the birthdays of public figures. A well-timed ebook can gather momentum and sales very quickly.

Gather your content

There are a few approaches you can take to this step. Searching through your archives is the most cost-effective method, and can frequently lead to the revival of classic reporting: one great example of this is the first ebook published by The Washington Post, “The Original Watergate Stories”. It may also be possible for you to take advantage of the talent already on your staff—perhaps by having them write pieces to complement content selected for the books.

Another option is to assign a reporter to produce a series designed specifically for compilation as an ebook. Check out Paid Content’s report on a series written by Curt Brown for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which was published in the paper over the course of a week. The ebook was made available from the first day and quickly hit the NYT bestseller list.

Contextualize and enhance

Readers might be reluctant to buy your ebooks if they seem tired or out of date. Counter this objection by contextualizing and enhancing your content, with updates or extensions to articles, new introductions, photographs, video, and other media.

Create a consistent design

The best newspapers are known for their distinctive designs and styles, and your ebooks should be consistent with your paper’s image. Work with your design team to create flexible templates and eye-catching covers that instantly convey your books’ association with the newspaper—because this is your strongest selling point. Remember that the covers of ebooks are typically viewed at a small size, and should be designed accordingly: see this blog post for more on cover design.

Choose a price point

Ebooks, like newspapers, are a high volume, low margin product. Unlike newspapers, however, ebooks can continue generating revenue for months or years after they’re published. Most newspapers sell their ebooks for between $1.99 and $4.99. This might seem a little steep at first, but remember that there is a market for higher-value content produced by newspapers—more than a million people pay $5 for the Sunday New York Times every weekend. This blog post from British site The Media Briefing discusses how The Financial Times priced their first ebook:

“The FT published its first ebook six months ago, a collection of articles on the Greek debt crisis titled ‘If Greece goes...’ It retailed at £2.49 and sold 8,000 copies, if all those copies had sold at full price (which they didn't as it's subsequently been made free) the FT would have made just shy of £20,000 from it, though less out of later titles, according to our estimates.
That revenue may not sound like much, but considering ‘If Greece Goes...’ was put together out of archive material, by staff from other parts of the FT working on the project part time, and with minimal distribution costs, it certainly seems like a worthwhile endeavour that will keep generating revenue.”

Another option is to distribute your ebooks free to subscribers—either to encourage new subscriptions, or as a gesture of thanks for existing customers.

Consider advertising options

Although advertisements are not permitted within ebooks themselves, other options like sponsored downloads give real scope for partnerships with key advertisers. Chances are your advertising clients are excited about ebooks and interested in trying something new.

Market internally and externally

Your existing subscriber base should be your first port of call for your marketing efforts: these people already know and love your brand, after all. Make it easy for them with cross-promotion in your physical edition, your website, and on social media. Create an internal landing page to which you can direct all enquiries: take a look at The New York Times’ page for their ebooks.

You should market externally, too—use promotion codes to distribute free copies to influential reviewers and bloggers, and price promotions to drive sales.

Distribute to major marketplaces

Many of the topics covered by great newspapers are relevant to international audiences, so it makes sense that you should distribute your ebooks globally, too. The three biggest ebook marketplaces, which together account for 95% of the market, are Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Global distribution can be technical and tricky, so consider asking a specialized ebook services company to handle it for you.

We’ve worked with The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. Want to join the ranks? Sign up on Vook.com to talk to an ebook professional today.

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