Newspaper eBooks and The Boston Globe’s 68 Blocks

Newspaper eBooks and The Boston Globe’s 68 Blocks

Newspaper eBooks and The Boston Globe's 68 BlocksTwo years ago at the World Newspaper Congress one presenter asked, “Is the iPad going to do to newspapers what the digital camera did to consumer film?”

While a definitive answer to that question is still playing out, the digital publishing team over at The Boston Globe is determined to embrace the tablet and eReader platforms to avoid a similar outcome for their business. To date, The Globe has produced 13 eBooks, making it one of the more active experimenters in this evolving form of newspaper publishing. Most recently they published eBooks based on an ambitious investigative reporting effort that originally ran in the newspaper this past December. The Globe recently offered me a review copy of the Apple iBook multimedia version of the title, 68 Blocks.

In a telephone interview, The Globe's assistant managing editor for design Dan Zedek told me they continue to experiment with different approaches to delivering content. In this particular case they chose to use Apple's iBooks Author 2 to develop the version sold on iTunes, while sticking with a standard Mobi file for the Kindle store and EPUB for Barnes & Noble. All the development effort took place in-house at The Globe, and Zedek shared that these eBooks were part of the planning from the outset.

My own impression of the fixed-page (portrait only) Apple iBook version of 68 Blocks was that the production values were outstanding. The Globe team found the right balance of text, scrolling sidebars, slide shows and video. The two videos were especially well done.

In my experience there are two challenges when producing multimedia titles: employing a user interface that supports both storytelling and interactivity, and being judicious in the use of multimedia capabilities. The Globe delivered on both counts.

Unfortunately, I was unable to review the other two versions beyond downloading samples from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But based on the samples, and comparing file download sizes, Kindle and Nook readers can't be getting the same content. While the Apple version clocks in at 313MB, the B&N Nook edition is 5MB and the Kindle is a nearly-text-only size of 547KB. For example, the Kindle sample had a single image in the early part of Chapter One, while the iBooks edition had six images. When asked about this, Zedek admitted that leaving many of the images out of the Kindle version might not have been the best call.

As an aside, and in fairness to The Globe, Amazon has yet to deliver support for MP3 audio and MP4 video, and it's been more than a year since Amazon announced “KF8.” Even when these media types are eventually supported, one can only hope that Amazon will deliver an authoring tool as evolved and polished as iBooks Author. In the meantime the problem, it seems, is that publishers like The Globe are producing eBooks that merely share the same name, not the same content. Aren't these fundamentally different products, and shouldn't they be titled as such?

But after more than three years of experimentation, I think the keys now are marketing and how to make these investments pay off. While The Globe was steadfast against sharing results, Zedek did say that The Globe’s eBooks are finding success as a subscriber benefit. As newspapers continue to implement paywalls, eBooks are a natural value-added reader benefit. Contrary to Amazon's overall market dominance in eBooks, The Globe reports more people download Apple's iBooks-formatted eBooks to their iPads than the Kindle editions. They have also been surprised at the strong reader interest in downloading eBooks published using the trusty PDF format.

Looking forward I believe every publisher must meet these three criteria in order to be successful selling digital media products:

  1. Have more than one income stream. Publishers can no longer rely on book sales as their sole source of revenue, because their competition isn't just other media companies. It’s businesses like Amazon, Apple and Google (even Samsung), who use one part of the business to help fund and create synergies for another part of the business.
  1. Own a niche. To control and maximize their investment in marketing, publishers need to focus narrowly; by subject, geography, lifestyle or some other defining characteristic.
  1. Sell direct. Selling direct is the best defense against eroding margins and allows publishers to manage distribution to their benefit.

Newspapers are inherently aligned with these criteria. That makes them well positioned to compete with trade publishers when it comes to publishing eBooks. The trick is developing the products and processes to leverage them, something The Globe is clearly capable of doing.


You might also like to read these posts about digital media and newspapers:

Interesting Quotes from the 63rd World Newspaper Congress and 18th World Editors Forum

Comparing eBooks Compiled from News Articles: Value, Reviews and Price

FargoNewspaper Repurposes Article Series on Kindle

AuthorImprints Completes Archive Publishing Project for The San Diego Daily Transcript/San Diego Source


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