News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: E Books

November 22, 2010

USC Annenberg Launches Digital Media Innovation Lab

A newly launched center for media technology innovation has big ambitions—by putting its findings to work in the field quickly, it hopes to help tackle the marketplace dilemmas that now rack the media industry. The Annenberg Innovation Lab, announced Nov. 17 by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is positioning itself as a kind of MIT Media Lab 2.0, i.e. not just as a showcase for cutting-edge digital tools, but also as “a bridge” to outside businesses that can apply its work directly.

A key factor in the lab’s promise to bring technologies to market comes in the form of support from big corporations like IBM, Verizon, Levi’s and Mattel, which have reported pooled $1 million in initial investments in the lab. With that backing, the lab says it will focus its work in areas like semantic search for investigative reporting, multimedia e-book advances, social networking platforms, interactive TV applications, 3D storytelling tools and portable digital devices for production, distribution and monetization.

Collaboration will be central to the lab’s efforts - it plans to tap students and professors from USC’s business, engineering and film school. “The lab is a meeting place, a hub, where a lot of different kinds of people are coming together to think over the horizon but in practical terms about new kinds of digital tools for creating and disseminating information,” said long-time journalist Roberto Suro, a journalism professor at the school and the lab’s managing director.

The lab’s director will be entertainment industry veteran Jonathan Taplin, while creative director will be Erin Reilly, a virtual learning and digital media expert. Find out more on the Innovation Lab’s web site, or read coverage of the launch in this L.A. Times story and this report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

June 27, 2011

E-readers more popular than tablets: Pew report

Many news organizations have launched iPad apps, but few have offerings that target e-reader devices. This publishing strategy could prove to be backwards. A new Pew report finds that e-readers are more popular, and growing faster, than tablets…

The headline from the Pew Internet and American Life project reads: E-reader ownership doubles in six months: Adoption rate of e-readers surges ahead of tablet computers. Here are the key statistics:

Last winter, tablets were slightly ahead. Pew reports that at that point, 7% of U.S. adults owned a tablet computer of any kind, while only 6% owned an e-reader device. This Spring saw a surge in e-reader adoption. By May 2011, 12% of U.S. adults owned an e-reader. Meanwhile, tablet ownership expanded only to 8% of U.S. adults.

So right now, the e-reader audience is considerably larger than the tablet audience. This trend is likely to continue, and the gap should widen considerably—for good reason: E-readers are far cheaper than tablets.

Right now you can buy the least expensive Kindle brand new for $114 (with sponsored screensaver ads), and Amazon has hinted that they may start giving away the Kindle for free at some point. And on the high end, the top-of-the-line Nook Color e-reader starts at $249.

In contrast, the most basic (16GB, wifi only) current models of the iPad, Android tablets, and the BlackBerry Playbook all start at $499—and considerably more if you want to add 3G or 4G wireless data network access.

Blurring the tablet/e-reader line. Tablet and e-reader technology exist along a spectrum. Most notably, all tablets can read e-books—although the e-book format each accommodates varies by device and available apps. So: If you have a tablet, you also have an e-book reader.

Flipping that around: The Nook Color is really a modified Android tablet. In fact, it’s possible to hack the Nook Color to turn it into the cheapest full Android tablet now on the market.

It’s likely that in the future more e-readers will adopt tablet-esque hardware. But since low cost is a key part of the e-reader’s consumer appeal, it’s also likely that many lower-tech (and thus lower cost) models will remain on offer.

How news orgs can tap the e-reader market

The most basic approach is to sell e-reader subscriptions to your periodical content. Kindle, Nook, Sony, and most other e-bookstores have “newsstand” sections. This requires some initial investment in setup and testing, but after that the sales, publishing, and distribution processes are automated. Furthermore most e-bookstores don’t take nearly as big a percentage of subscription revenues as Apple does.

The New York Times recently reported that magazine sales on the Nook Color rival, and in some cases surpass, iPad subscriptions. Similarly, leading consumer magazine publisher Meredith Corp. has an aggressive strategy to “go wide on e-readers, narrow on iPad,” according to EmediaVitals.

Like any subscription business, e-reader subscriptions require active marketing. So if your news organization promotes e-reader subscriptions via your print, web, mobile, and social media channels, your e-reader subscriptions will likely increase. But if you expect e-reader users to find this option entirely on their own, then curb your revenue outlook.

Most e-readers in consumer’s hands today use black-and-white e-ink displays. these devices offer a relatively clunky experience of reading a periodical such as a newspaper or magazine. However, all e-readers (regardless of hardware) excel at displaying books. This is yet another reason why news orgs should consider repurposing content as e-books.

Earlier I wrote about this emerging revenue option, with tips from BookBrewer founder Dan Pacheco on how to turn news/feature content into sellable e-books.

If your news org is currently investing in (or considering) tablet offerings,  it makes sense to also explore your options in the larger and faster-growing e-reader market. It may be less glamorous than a fancy iPad app, but it might be better business.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

December 28, 2011

How publishing changed in 2011: O’Reilly’s take

Yes, right now every media outlet is adding to the incessant flood of 2011 wrap-up stories. But today the O’Reilly Radar blog published one that’s actually pretty important to everyone in the news business: how publishing changed in 2011, and how it’s still changing.

Here’s a quick recap, plus takeaway lessons for news organizations and journalists…

Publishing isn’t only about books. All news organizations and journalists are involved in the publishing business. In fact, back in July, Robert Niles posted in Online Journalism Review a three-part journalist’s guide to e-book publishing.

Today in her O’Reilly post Five things we learned about publishing in 2011, Jenn Webb observed: “Many of publishing’s big developments from 2011 will continue to shape the industry in 2012.”

She pointed out these trends:

1. Amazon is, indeed, a disruptive publishing competitor. “The wave started out small, with a host of expanding self-publishing tools for authors, but it grew to tsunami proportions as Amazon launched imprint after imprint.”

Webb also noted that “Amazon may be encroaching on feature magazines like the Atlantic and the New Yorker as well,” with the launch of Kindle Singles. Journalists eventually may find these and similar publishing options to be more lucrative than writing for magazines.

2. Publishers aren’t necessary to publishing. This is the year self-publishing started to go mainstream, wrote Webb, thanks to the influence of Amazon and other players.

Also: “Another trend emerged this year to further sideline the publisher’s role: the rise of the agent-publisher. This controversial and contentious business model allows agents to step in to provide expanded publishing services to authors.”

This development might increase options for writers (including journalists), while threatening the business model of publishers (including news outlets).

3. Readers sure do like e-books. Citing a number of statistics about sales of e-books and e-reader devices and apps, Webb noted: “The conclusion is clear: e-reading is now mainstream.” Which indicates that journalists and news publishers should be aggressively pursuing this market now.

4. HTML5 is an important publishing technology. This basically boils down to the role that responsive web design and utilizing the capabilities of different device types can play in creating a seamless user experience that bridges devices—key points that mobile design expert Luke Wroblewski mentioned in his recent KDMC interview.

5. DRM is full of unintended consequences. News sites that are trying to build a business model based on restricting access to content—via paywalls, digital rights management, or other means—should take note of why Webb finds this approach short-sighted and ultimately bad for business.

Webb quoted a recent blog post by author Charlie Stross, who wrote:

“DRM on e-books gives Amazon a great tool for locking e-book customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you’re naturally going to be reluctant to move to other e-book platforms… If the big six [book publishers] began selling e-books without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their e-books on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon’s monopoly position.”

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

January 16, 2012

Data journalism: New Guardian e-book, news dataviz examples

Data journalism is a useful set of skills for journalists who seeks a challenge or expanded career options. And some of the most skilled practitioners in data journalism work at The Guardian.

Recently Simon Rogers of the Guardian distilled some key data journalism how-to tips and big-picture insights into a short e-book. A few highlights…

In his introduction to Facts are Sacred: The Power of Data (Kindle edition, $3.99), Rogers observed:

“This is more than a collection of stories; almost a manifesto for a new way of seeing things. In the past two years, data journalism has become our industry standard, our way of telling the big stories.

“It’s not just about reporting and news organizations—data has become the hope for companies across the world, a potential source of revenue, either in exploiting it or helping others analyze it. The divisions between what we do in the media and what happens out there in the rest of the world are breaking down—and data has played a huge part in that.”

10 lessons from this book:

  • Data journalism may be trendy, but it’s not new.
  • Open data means open data journalism.
  • Has data journalism become curation?
  • Bigger datasets, smaller things.
  • Data journalism is 80% perspiration, 10% great idea, 10% output.
  • Long- and short-form data journalism.
  • Anyone can do it…
  • ...but looks can be everything (design).
  • You don’t have to be a programmer.
  • It’s (still) all about stories.


Meanwhile, Placeblogger.com founder and media geek Lisa Williams has posted an editable online spreadsheet listing examples of data visualization projects for news. Feel free to add more examples.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

January 23, 2012

Tablet/e-reader ownership doubles over holiday gift season, says Pew

More of the U.S. media audience is going mobile, fast—as indicated in the dramatic spike in ownership of media-focused mobile devices over the recent holiday gift season. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found now nearly 30% of U.S. adults now owns either a tablet computer or e-reader device…

According to a new Pew report: “The share of U.S. adults who own tablet computers nearly doubled from 10% to 19% between mid-December and early January and the same surge in growth also applied to e-book readers, which also jumped from 10% to 19% over the same time period. ...The number of Americans owning at least one of these digital reading devices jumped from 18% in December to 29% in January.”

What caused this shift? The introduction of smaller, cheaper tablets such as the Kindle Fire. Although these devices are marketed as e-readers, they actually are modified Android tablets capable of browsing the web, doing e-mail, running apps and more—even though these devices have less functionality than an iPad, and the Kindle Fire in particular is comparatively more clunky to use. Pew’s data considered the Kindle Fire and Nook Color as tablets, rather than e-readers.

Meanwhile, the price of many simpler e-readers (those with e-ink screens and very limited online access, such as the basic Kindle or the Nook Touch) has fallen well below $100. In fact, the New York Times recently started giving away the Nook Touch for free to readers who purchase a $20/month Nook subscription to the Times.

Who’s using tablets more? Pew found a surge in ownership of tablet computers among college graduates and people from wealthier households (annual income over $75,000). “Additionally, those under age 50 saw a particularly significant leap in tablet ownership.”

For simpler e-readers, Pew found different patterns: “Ownership of e-readers among women grew more than among men. Those with more education and higher incomes also lead the pack when it comes to e-book ownership, but the gap between them and others isn’t as dramatic. For instance, 19% of those in households earning $30,000- $50,000 have e-book readers. They are 12% behind those in households earning $75,000 or more in e-book reader ownership. The gap between those income levels on tablet ownership is 20%.”

What does this mean for news publishers? News organizations, entrepreneurial journalists, and other publishers should recognize that e-books are now a bigger market than ever. So 2012 would be a good time to start repackaging your content (or creating spinoffs) in e-book form. See Online Journalism Review’s recent journalist’s guide to e-book publishing for advice on understanding this market and getting started.

Also, when crafting your overall mobile strategy, take the form factor, opportunities, and constraints of smaller tablets into account. Your responsive web design, mobile themes, or app design should should accommodate the Kindle Fire and Nook Color as core use cases. Also make your mobile apps available through Amazon’s app store and the Nook Color app store. Those devices don’t access the full Android Market.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 09, 2012

Review: RCFP “first aid” app for journalists

Recently the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press launched a free “first aid” mobile app to give reporters in the field immediate access to legal resources, especially when encountering obstacles to newsgathering or access. Here are some reasons why anyone who commits acts of journalism should have it on their smartphone—and what news publishers can learn from this type of publishing project…

This app is basically an e-book which you download as an app and customize with information specific to your state—and which RCFP periodically updates with fresh information. For resource guides where information changes often, this is probably a better approach than publishing a traditional e-book, and certainly much more mobile-friendly (and user-friendly) than publishing in pdf or print format.

The app covers these six legal topic areas:

  • Newsgathering
  • Court access
  • Public meetings
  • Public records
  • Confidential sources
  • Libel


When you first download this app, select all the states where you do reporting. For instance, if you report even occasionally from one or more neighboring states—and especially if you cover courts, where venue changes can carry local cases into another state’s courts—it’s a good idea to select all the states you may be reporting from. You can add or remove states from your list at any time.

With state customization, when you access relevant sections of this guide to get answers you’ll see a short overview of the topic at hand followed by state subheadings with additional info, including citations for relevant state laws. This can be helpful if you need to, say, press for access to a closed meeting that should be public. Knowing which law to cite can help persuade an official barring the door who may not be as familiar with legal requirements.

You can also search the text of the app’s content.

The RCFP app also has also a “hotline” feature, where you can place a call or send an e-mail to RCFP for immediate legal answers and assistance. And soon this app will connect journalists to RCFP’s new hotlines for both the Republican National Convention (Aug. 27-30, Tampa, FL) and Democratic National Convention (Sept. 4-6, Charlotte, NC). Presumably the app will also add convention-specific content as well.

This guide is a great example of how to deploy a useful mobile resource that communicates a body of knowledge and actionable tips. There are some opportunities for improvement, of course.

First of all, it would be helpful if users could create text, voice, photo, or video annotations to relevant pages in their copy of their apps, and then have the option of saving them offline, sending them to others, or sharing them back to RCFP. This could enrich the body of knowledge RCFP has amassed, and also provide useful feedback and case studies to further improve and promote this app.

Also this app could (and probably should) also be implemented as a mobile web app—a mobile-friendly interactive web site that can be viewed through a browser on a mobile device. This would offer the significant benefits of search visibility and direct linkability.

For instance, imagine that a reporter who never heard of this app is unexpectedly forbidden access to a courtroom. She would probably call her editor, or reach out to colleagues or social media, or quickly search Google for fast answers and options. If all this content was available on the web, the Google search would deliver relevant pages—perhaps even state-specific info from RCFP, since Google mobile search results are inherently weighted by location.

Similarly, if this apps content was simultaneously deployed via a mobile-friendly website (and if both versions were served from the same content management system to keep them synchronized), the reporter’s editor, colleagues, or social media contacts could send her a direct link to the relevant information. She then could view this in the web browser of her phone, tablet, netbook, or laptop without having to download or install anything. These pages also could advertise and facilitate the download of the mobile app.

A joint downloadable/web app deployment would enable another possibly popular and useful feature: the ability to share links to relevant pages of app content via e-mail, text message, social media, and more.

Still, making all this information available first as a freestanding downloadable app is useful, since you might easily end up reporting from a location that lacks good (or any) wifi or cell signal.

Community publishers might consider this app not just as a useful resource for their own reporters and community members, but also as an example of how to deploy a mobile-friendly resource for your community.

For instance, if your news venue often covers topics such as the school system or harassment by local law enforcement, a mobile guide that offers current context, law/regulations, resources (including phone numbers and e-mail addresses), tips and advice, and your recent or important coverage could prove quite popular with community members. This approach might help promote your news brand—and perhaps also provide new direct or indirect revenue options.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.