Here are a few stories that caught my eye in the publishing space this week.
News orgs turn to data and shopping for new revenue streams
Two news organizations recently took out-of-the-box steps in the relentless pursuit of that illusive digital-era revenue. First, USA Today decided to dip its toe into the business of big data: the newspaper will now offer commercial licensing for its information. As noted in a Nieman Lab post this week, access to USA Today’s APIs isn’t new — but selling the access for commercial purposes is. In an interview, USA Today’s Stephen Kurtz said the newspaper is feeling it out at this point to assess the demand and to hone a working model. Perhaps Kurtz should look to an example highlighted in the Nieman post: The Guardian’s Open Platform.
Another news organization stepped into a more uncharted sales area this week: Politico is now in the bookstore business. Politico recently teamed with Random House to publish instant ebooks, and now the duo will sell the ebooks from a new online store dubbed Politico Bookshelf. Initially, this venture looked like a first step for one of the Big Six to delve into direct book sales, but the release on Politico’s site indicates that it’s really more of a browsing platform than a store: “Shoppers can browse or search for titles, and then purchase them through a selection of online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Politics and Prose and Apple’s iBookstore.”
Amazon’s foray into publishing continues to jolt the industry
The New York Times reported this week on Amazon’s rapidly increasing reach into publishing: first it edged out bookstores, then it started launching imprints, and now it’s wooing writers and “gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.” Examples of Amazon’s gnawing were summed up in the post:
Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.
And this doesn’t even take the Kindle Fire and the ecosystem it’s creating into account. The Atlantic took a look at the dangers of where this kind of one-stop-shop might lead, and over at GigaOm, Mathew Ingram looked at Amazon’s disruption and why its working. He also offered some sage advice for publishers: “Take a lesson from the music industry and don’t spend all your time suing people for misusing what you believe is your content — think instead about why they are doing this, and what it says about how your business is changing, and then try to adapt to that.”
Kobo’s Vox takes on Amazon’s Fire
Kobo stepped out ahead of Amazon this week and announced its new tablet, Vox, will start shipping Oct. 28 — a couple of weeks ahead of the Nov. 15 shipment date for Kindle Fire. Some argue that the Fire (and presumably similar low-priced tablets like Vox and Nook — there’s a nice comparison of the three over at Dear Author) will lead to the demise of the iPad. What seems more likely is the impending obscurity of the dedicated ereading device. In a recent TOC Podcast interview, Max Franke of epubli talked about the German ebook market and pointed out that tablets were preferred over ereaders in that part of the world. Perhaps that trend will spread to this side of the pond as well.