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E-singles: making extra money from long-form journalism?

E-singles: making extra money from long-form journalism?

Sometimes a story's too long to be an article, too short to be a book. What can publishers do? Increasingly, the answer has been to publish e-singles.

The concept has been around for a while. Almost a year ago, the New York Times published an article about the Atavist, an app launched in January 2011 as a platform for long-form stories, enhanced with high-quality photography, videos and audio features.

Atavist co-founder Evan Ratliff described the gap his project filled in the market: "in the digital realm, there is infinite space, but somehow this hasn't resulted in a flowering of long-form content." Fellow founder Nicholas Thompson added, "the Web is good at creating short and snappy bits of information, but not so much when it comes to long-form, edited, fact-and-spell-checked work"

Other publishers had also been trying to appeal to the same niche. Amazon is credited with starting the trend, with the release of Kindle singles in January 2011. Byliner launched in April as a publisher and social network for producing and selling long articles/non-fiction stories. Traditional publishers including Penguin and Random House are also in on the trend.

The market for e-singles is growing, as the boom in tablets and e-readers has given consumers access to a lean-back digital device, which lends itself to in-depth reading, rather than casual browsing.

Paid Content recently published an article suggesting that the fledging product has already come a long way. Reporting on a panel discussion on e-singles at the Digital Book World Conference in New York, Paid Content listed the achievements of e-singles publishers: the Atavist sold over 100,000 copies of ten e-singles released last year; Byliner has sold 100,000 original e-singles; an e-single published by Penguin is number three on the New York Times e-book bestseller list.

E-singles can be an opportunity for news organizations and book publishers - both under financial pressure - to join forces. Paid Content writes that Random House has partnered with Politico to publish four non-fiction e-singles. Author of the article Laura Hazard Owen quotes Random House's Jon Meacham, who says that the partnership benefits both parties in that it "increases the discoverability and the prominence both of Random House and of Politico". What's more it delivers a ready-made audience to Random House, in the form of Politico's loyal readers.

Increasingly, news organisations have been publishing e-books as a way supplement falling revenue. As Poynter noted last summer, e-singles can be a good way for news organisations to repackage content and sell it a second time around, especially if current events give an old story newfound relevance. E-singles also have the advantage of being quick and easy to produce compared to traditional publishing.

ProPublica, Slate, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post are a few examples of news organizations that have released e-singles.

Now publishers are experimenting further. Paid Content also reports that the Atavist has been investigating new ways to sell its products; it wants to launch a yearly subscription model for e-singles, turning its range of singles into something more like a magazine.

But although some publishers may have high hopes, e-singles are still at an early stage and there's no guarantee that they will bolster news organisations revenue in a meaningful way. Laura Hazard Owen at Paid Content writes that lots of questions remain unanswered: "What kind of returns are traditional publishers expecting from e-singles? Will they contribute to the bottom line any time soon or do publishers see them as a relatively inexpensive way to experiment?" Another question is whether a large base or readers will be willing to pay for long articles, when services like Longreads offer them for free.

Sources: New York Times, Paid Content (1) (2) Poynter


Hannah Vinter


2012-01-25 17:42

Shaping the Future of the News Publishing

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