Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

February 15 2011

18:00

1,900 copies: How a top-selling Kindle Single is generating new audiences for ProPublica

Listing the eight big trends journalism will see over the next year, Josh highlighted the increasing role that the singles model will play in the news. He was talking about the disaggregation of the author and the publisher — “a way for an individual writer to kind of go around getting the approval of a glossy magazine editor or getting a newspaper editor’s approval to get something to an audience.” But the idea has another intriguing twist, as well: individual news organizations using the singles model to circumvent traditional constraints on publishing.

One outlet that’s making a go of that approach is ProPublica, which, at the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Singles platform late last month, published a story as a Kindle Single: staff writer Sebastian Rotella’s nearly 13,000-word-long exposé, “Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story.”

The piece, also available for free on the web, is a work of long-form investigative journalism, telling the story of the complex stew of relationships and circumstances that led to the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai. It’s long for a web piece, short for a book — right in the sweet spot Kindle Singles are trying to hit.

Selling it through Amazon for 99 cents was an experiment, Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s general manager, told me. From the looks of things, though, it’s been a successful one: The story’s been a regular in the top 10 of Kindle Singles bestsellers (it’s been as high as #2, as far as I’ve seen; it’s #6 at this writing). It’s also currently #1 in books about both terrorism and international security — and #1, for that matter, across all books (e- and otherwise) in Amazon’s International Security category. That, with almost no marketing effort (besides the placement of the story on Amazon’s site itself) on the part of ProPublica.

And if you’re wondering what being a top-10 Kindle Single gets you in terms of actual sales: In the first two weeks of its availability in the Singles Store, the piece sold more more than 1,900 copies, Tofel says.

The 1,900 sales number is certainly not a lot compared to other metrics (pageviews and the like). And given the story’s 99-cent pricing (the minimum amount for a Single) and the 35 percent royalty rate, the direct financial gain isn’t much, either. “The money will be nice, but even if you multiply the eventual sales of this by ten — and multiply that by 20 — it still doesn’t turn into enough money to float our boat,” Tofel notes.

Then again, pageviews — while they’re good at measuring a story’s popularity and decent at measuring its impact — don’t accrue to much direct financial gain, either, even on a site that accepts advertising. The Singles model, instead, allows ProPublica to take a new twist on the old “diversify your assets” maxim: It’s one more revenue stream for the outfit. And, given the broad brand exposure that being listed on Amazon’s site allows, the Singles model could allow separate (and sometimes contradictory) goals to be achieved on the same publishing platform: editorial impact and financial gain.

Besides, the value proposition here lies more in the cultural proposition that the Kindle Single and its counterparts represent: the editorial normalization of long-form. The web isn’t bringing about the long-predicted “death of long-form”; on the contrary, it seems, the digital world is heralding a renaissance in long-form reportage. “The economics of book and magazine publishing for the last 100 years have had the effect of saying that you cannot write narrative nonfiction at longer than 10,000 words,” Tofel says — and, for that matter, shorter than book length.

Sheri Fink’s story on the chaos at a hospital devastated by Hurricane Katrina — the New York Times Magazine piece that won ProPublica its Pulitzer — was about the same length as Rotella’s story, around 13,000 words. And “that’s pretty much the outer edge of the range for a magazine piece,” Tofel notes. On the other side of the equation, you have books, where short of a certain length, Tofel notes, “it’s hard to charge enough for a book to make money.” Essentially, magazines have had a maximum length for stories, while books have had a minimum. The end result: “There’s this void,” Tofel notes. “And the void is dictated not by narrative, but by economics.” Despite the web’s ability to remove the physical constraints from the editorial process, until now, there hasn’t been a platform that’s been well suited to the length. Journalism hasn’t had its equivalent of the novella.

“One of the things that people were saying a few years ago is that long-form is dead,” Tofel notes. In reality, though, “long-form was never alive as a mass medium.”

Selling 1,900 copies at 99 cents doesn’t make for a mass medium either, exactly, but the hope is that the Singles model might allow for a kind of renaissance of pamphlet, with benefits accruing to reported pieces. The platform allows users to get used (re-used) to the idea of journalism as a long-form, immersive proposition. And for an outfit whose specialty is deep-dive, attention-requiring narrative, that’s valuable. “Anything that promotes ways for people to effectively consume long-form journalism in the modern world is good for us,” Tofel notes. If the big question is whether there’s an audience for longform, he says, “this, to us, looks like an interesting way to find an audience.”

April 20 2010

14:00

“Revenue promiscuity”: The many ways in-depth and investigative reporting will be funded (hopefully)

John Thornton, the chairman of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, has a term he uses to describe how his investigative news venture will stay afloat: revenue promiscuity. “You have to get it everywhere and often,” Thornton told a crowd of journalists this weekend at the Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium.

Thorton’s crass imagery was a hit with the crowd and his fellow panelists, who agreed that funding high-quality investigative journalism can’t rely on just one or two sources of cash. The days of advertising and circulation revenue alone is over. We’re looking at a new era of mixed streams of revenue.

A spirited discussion — among The Washington Post’s Len Downie, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Robert Rosenthal, Bay Citizen CEO Lisa Frazier, Newsosaur Alan Mutter, and Thornton — sketched a picture of a diverse (if uncertain) future for paying for the hardest of hard news. Here are three of the themes that emerged:

Beyond big money: tapping the grassroots

Just two years ago, whether or not foundations would step in to support investigative reporting was a point of discussion at this same seminar. This year, the question shifted to for how long — or for how many dollars — foundations will continue to do so.

Thornton, a venture capitalist who doubts investigative journalism works as a for-profit endeavor, said it’s not enough to think about foundation support. He described the Trib’s a public-radio-style model of tapping into reader donations to cover operating costs. Before The Texas Tribune launched, a splash page enticed 1,600 locals to give money to the site. (Thornton noted that all funding momentum stopped once the site actually launched: “Content is the enemy of conversion.”) Thornton hopes to pull in 10,000 supporters at an average of $100 each across the state over the next year. In three years, he hopes to pull in $3 million from readers, one third of the site’s operating costs. In addition, the Tribune plans to raise money by selling premium content and hosting live events.

For-profit plus

Alan Mutter, the panel’s most vocal proponent of a for-profit approach, argued that a strategy based on multiple revenue streams doesn’t have to exist in a nonprofit environment to work. Mutter proposed a multi-pronged approach, adding diversified revenue streams (from things like helping advertisers with their online presence, along with events and paid content) to more traditional ones — even if profit margins still wouldn’t be what they were in the glory days. Mutter’s pitch was received with some grumbling; Thornton said there’s no way news organizations can staff that kind of operation and still make money, the payoff of each wouldn’t make it profitable.

The future as experimentation

Frazier, of Bay Citizen, made clear that her yet-to-launch organization doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but that testing new ideas will be critical; she repeatedly referred to her operation as “an experiment.” She talked about using technology to make journalism more efficient (a.k.a. cheaper) to produce, but also said she’d be testing money-making models.

Rosenthal shared Frazier’s experimentation mentality, and offered some hope for anyone wondering about increased competition among nonprofits for foundation support. Two years ago Center for Investigative Reporting had a staff of about seven. Today it’s 26. “We’ve been remarkable in raising money.”

Photo by Thomas Hawk used under a Creative Commons license.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl