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Publishing News: Two publications shift focus from print to digital

Newsweek ends print, The Guardian hires a digital strategy director, libraries own Random House ebooks, and Kindles go to school.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Navigating the print to digital shift

After 79 years of print production, U.S. weekly news magazine Newsweek will be shutting down its printing presses and going all-in on digital by the end of the year. Darrell Etherington reports at TechCrunch that the final print edition will publish on December 31, 2012, and the digital edition of the magazine will be renamed Newsweek Global. Etherington quotes a memo from Newsweek editor Tina Brown explaining the thought process behind the move:

“Currently, 39 percent of Americans say they get their news from an online source, according to a Pew Research Center study released last month. In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.”

Jaar Newsweek-sm by Julian Stallabrass, on Flickr

There is much speculation as to whether or not this strategic move will succeed. Felix Salmon at Reuters argues in no uncertain terms that it’s not going to work:

“Once upon a time, Newsweek was a license to print money; from here on in, it will be a drain and a distraction. Merging it into the Daily Beast never made a huge amount of sense, and now it’s being de-merged: instead, its journalism ‘will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web.’ … The chances that Newsweek will succeed as a digital-only subscription-based publication are exactly zero. If you had a team of first-rate technologists and start from scratch trying to create such a beast, you’d end up with something pretty much like Huffington — which lasted exactly five issues before bowing to the inevitable and going free. “

In somewhat related digital publishing news, there were rumors recently that The Guardian would be ending its print publication to fully embrace digital. These rumors were solidly squashed, but Guardian News & Media is making a move to put digital front and center: this week, the company appointed its first ever digital strategy director.

According to the press release, Zeit Online chief editor Wolfgang Blau will begin his new postion April 1, 2013, and “will work across GNM’s editorial and commercial teams, helping them to grow global audiences and revenues by developing new digital platforms that deepen reader engagement and provide new opportunities to commercial partners.” A spokesman from GNM told Robert Andrews at PaidContent, “We have never had a single person in charge of digital strategy. Given the scale of our digital audience (30.2 million monthly uniques, according to the last comScore), it’s clearly time.”

The importance of libary ownership rights

Random House this week reiterated the fact that libraries own Random House ebooks. Skip Dye, Random House’s vice president of library and academic marketing and sales, told Libary Journal’s Michael Kelley in an interview:

“This is our business model: we sell copies of our ebooks to an approved list of library wholesalers, and those wholesalers are supposed to resell them to libraries. In our view, this purchase constitutes ownership of the book by the library. It is not a license.”

Kelley highlighted the importance of the fact that it’s ownership, not a license, and urged libraries “to ensure that whatever licenses they are signing with vendors or aggregators do not unwittingly curtail or sign away the rights that entail from this frankly avowed ownership, particularly user exceptions under copyright law.” He notes that not only are ownership rights important in case of a future need or desire to move the content to a new platform, but “imagine what would happen if Amazon were to purchase OverDrive, and then shut it down.”

Amazon launches Whispercast

Amazon launched its new Whispercast service this week, a “scalable online tool for deploying Kindle devices and Kindle content” aimed at businesses and schools. The focus of the service on schools seems to be squarely aimed at competing with Apple’s iPad, writes Alistair Barr at Reuters. He reports that iPad sales in the education market have nearly doubled year-over-year to almost one million devices and describes how the Wispercast service can benefit schools:

“Administrators and teachers can set up user accounts for each student and arrange them into one or more groups, such as a specific class or grade level. They can also set limits on what students can do with the devices, such as blocking Facebook and web browsing and disabling purchasing.”

Interestingly, the press release points out that Whispercast will support “bring your own device” programs — as David Carnoy reports at CNET, support isn’t limited to Kindle devices: “it supports any device running the Kindle app, opening it up to PCs, iOS devices and Android smartphones and tablets.”

Photo: Jaar Newsweek-sm by Julian Stallabrass, on Flickr

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