News Leadership 3.0

May 26, 2011

E-books: Emerging revenue option for news publishers

E-books are hot: Amazon recently announced that it’s selling more e-books than print titles. And e-books are now included on the New York Times’ bestseller list. So the time may be right for news organizations to start making serious money on their voluminous archives, by repackaging content as e-books…

By Amy Gahran

So far, most news organizations have eyed e-readers—from the Kindle to the iPad—mainly as distribution channels for periodical subscriptions. But from a usability perspective, this generally is a clumsy match. E-book reader devices and apps are best at displaying, well, e-books. Learning how to roll with this could unlock new revenue opportunities for news orgs.

How might this work? A newspaper that has published several articles on a popular topic (such as a high-profile crime, a natural disaster, or a vibrant music and art scene) could repackage those articles as an e-book. Or if you regularly publish recipes, lifestyle or how-to features, or other “evergreen” content, it might sell in e-book form. And the work of a popular columnist, critic, or editorial cartoonist might also make a good e-book.

For example, Mark Scott Nash, a longtime outdoors writer for the Boulder, Colo. Daily Camera, recently published The Insolent Guide to Northern Colorado Mountains—an e-book that not only includes maps, color photos, and hiking guides, but also “a compilation of essays expressing why we are addicted to the primordial mountain wilderness experience.”  It sells for $9.99 in most e-bookstores.

An e-book can also be a handy way to present the documents supporting a big enterprise reporting project. That’s what the New York Times did with its first-ever e-book, published earlier this year: Open Secrets: Wikileaks, War, and American Diplomacy. Even though this content is available for free online, people are buying it for about $6 online—for the added convenience, portability, and presentation benefits an e-book offers.

I spoke with Dan Pacheco, founder and CEO of Bookbrewer.com, as he was attending Book Expo America in New York City. Bookbrewer evolved from Printcasting, an early Knight News Challenge winner—and it’s carving out a viable niche in the world of digital publishing.

Bookbrewer is a service that allows you to take any text or image content (from an RSS feed, files, or that you can copy and paste) and repackage it in popular e-book formats (mobi and epub), to make it compatible with all popular e-reader devices and apps. You can then create a cover, add front and back matter, and put it on the market. These e-books can be sold through any of the popular digital bookstores (Kindle, Nook, iBook, etc.), or directly by the author/publisher.

Pacheco describes Bookbrewer as a “content curation engine” that works like a blogging tool, “but instead of creating posts, you create a chapter.”

One prominent NY-based business publisher is working with BookBrewer to create a large collection of e-books. “They have a huge archive of investing tip articles. An admin-level person copied that content from their archives, sorted it topically, and created 100 books,” said Pacheco, noting that it took about 15 minutes to create each e-book.

What makes an e-book sell? Pacheco offers these tips:

  • Have a good story flow. Organize your content in a way that flows well, and add bridging text or context where necessary. If you’re packaging articles or columns, group them thematically or chronologically, whichever is more relevant to the topic.
  • Attractive cover design. This is a must. “People really DO judge a book by its cover. If you don’t take your e-book seriously, no one will buy it,” said Pacheco. One easy strategy for a good cover: Go to iStockPhoto, pay $5 for a good relevant image. Then put your title and author name/news brand on it—large. “Thumbnails for e-books are super small, so your title needs to be twice as big as on a printed bookcover.”
  • Promotion and visibility. This is where news organizations have a major advantage over e-book publishers. “Most book publicists would kill to have coverage run in newspapers as soon as their book hits the market. If you are the newspaper, that’s no problem,” said Pacheco. He also advises marketing e-books through social media and other channels that most news organizations are probably already using.


To get started, Pacheco suggests that news orgs might analyze their website search traffic, to see which keywords and topics people are searching for. If you have a lot of content on some of those most popular searches, then you might curate a package of stories and photos and turn it into an e-book.

There are several e-book publishing tools and services available. Bookbrewer is just one option—but it bundles some low-cost distribution service options to help publishers sell their e-books. For 5% of the sales revenue, BookBrewer will distribute your e-book to all major retailers. This can make e-book publishing easier and more effective, for both news orgs and solo content producers. So it might be a good place to start experimenting with this growing secondary content market.

Bookbrewer was the platform that Nash, of the Daily Camera, used to publish his e-book. The Camera granted Nash the rights to publish his Camera guides as an eBook. But other news organizations throwing up obstacles to e-book publishing.

“Last fall, I worked with a well known newspaper columnist who wanted to publish some of his columns as an e-book using Bookbrewer,” said Pacheco. “Sadly, he couldn’t get approval from corporate to publish. They told him it would be a four month process at minimum and that they had to manage it (but did nothing). How messed up is that?”

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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