Apple’s announcement of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author is just the latest in a round of developments in the ebook space which should have every content producer sitting up and taking interest. We’re still in very early days for the medium, and at the moment debate has often tended to centre around the format that they are “replacing” – people bemoaning the fact that ebooks don’t smell or feel like bound collections of paper. There is a huge opportunity, however, for people who can think beyond simply digitising their existing titles.
Kindle Singles, and the rise of the short ebook ranges like Penguin Shorts, strike me as analogous to the arrival of the 45RPM vinyl single in 1949. It took a few more years, but the format facilitated rock’n'roll as a new mainstream entertainment. We are yet to fully see the impact that this smaller “book” size will make, but it could be considerable. Titles that previously wouldn’t have been commercially viable to print, or which would have looked flimsy in a physical store, suddenly become an easily digestable read, consumed in a couple of commuter journeys.
At the Guardian, we’ve started a range of ebooks called Guardian Shorts. These take archive material from the paper, and reformat it into a short reading experience – the length varies from 20,000 to 55,000 words. Topics covered include the history of jazz, the rise of Facebook, blogs written around TV series like The Killing, and serious news topics such as the phone hacking scandal and the issue of US national debt. The majority of content is still available for free on the Guardian website, but consumers pay for the curation, editing and convenience of having the package on their iPad or Kindle.
This can be done on a very small scale. I help run and frequently attend events in London that centre around the user experience and journalism scene. I usually blog notes for the talks that I attend, and have compiled these into two Kindle titles. They haven’t set the Amazon charts alight, but it is a small amount of incremental revenue. If you are organising events, you could consider getting someone to write up content based on the talks, and then publish it as an ebook. You could even gift it to delegates as part of their ticket price, and then use it to promote repeat events.
Any publication with an archive has an opportunity in this space. B2B titles could put together briefing packs on specific titles or topics, or, for example, gather every interview with senior people in the industry sector they’ve done over the last 12 months into a compilation. The shortform ebook lengthens the shelf-life of content.
And when thinking about shortform ebook content, it isn’t just about books. Businesses need to consider how they are making their sales and promotional material available. Getting a brochure onto someone’s Kindle may turn out to be one of the first steps along the conversion funnel.
Material doesn’t even necessarily have to be specially prepared for the medium. Readability is a service that aims to improve the reading experience of the web by reformatting pages to remove clutter. They also offer a widget you can place on your site that includes a “Send to Kindle” button. Because of the way that Amazon allows users to email documents to their device, potentially any landing page or article on your website could be an offline ebook reading experience.
A key to success will be making these ebooks findable. I’ve got a suspicion that optimising ebook content to perform well within the Amazon website and iBooks store may turn out to be “the new SEO”.