Fancy a tipping point? How about Amazon.co.uk now sells more ebooks than paper books, just two years after the introduction of the Kindle device in the UK. That milestone took four years to occur in the US. Amazon UK sells 114 ebooks for every 100 old-fashioned ones (via paidContent).
There's something undeniably powerful about digital subscriptions, but it's worth remembering the potential for single payments for content too. Now, after many years in the doldrums, ebooks are now a major consumer category.
As @Adders succinctly put it, it's probably a good idea to have your ebook strategy in place. To help, here are just four early adopters doing interesting things right now:
Guardian Shorts extends the archive's reach
Launched a year ago, the Guardian Shorts series is made up of mini collections of print and online journalism on a particular subject. Recent additions to the non-subscription series include a guide to London and an Olympics mini-series.
As a medieval huntsman would use not just the meat but every bit of the animal, such as bones for household tools, The Guardian is using up all the potential of its content. As Martin Belam, who was then working on this project, put it on these very pages:
"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."
At £2.99 each, it's not going to change Guardian News & Media's fortunes any time soon. But it's a new and creative use of a vast, expensively produced and high quality archive.
Ars Technica's Mac OS reviews
This is one of the most interesting examples I've seen (thanks to James Seddon). John Siracusa's epic reviews of computer operating systems are well-known to Apple-loving geek people but he's using ebooks to make his reviews go much further.
As he details on his own blog (alongside some sharp analysis of the ebook game), you can get the review for free online, pay $4.99 for a Kindle ebook... or pay $5 a month for the Ars Premier subscription. That last category gives you an epub version, which is compatible with Apple's iBooks (Amazon's Kindle app is on the iPad, but not everyone's a fan), plus an ad-free web version and a pdf.
So this is using ebooks to make an archive work harder and also as a lever to create more paid subscriptions. It strikes me as a very simple way of creating a low-level subscription model for committed fans of a site, or adding a new element to an existing one.
Forbes extends the profile of its journalists with ebooks
So that's how to boost reading of your archive, but what can this new publishing frontier do for journalists? Quite a lot, if you look at what Forbes is doing.
Forbes chief product officer Lewis DVorkin - whose Inside Forbes series is fascinating - outlines how Forbes has given its writers a new voice through ebooks.
In this case the brand is encouraging contributors and staff to be their own publishing brands. Some Forbes writers attract more than a million pageviews to their content every month, so the idea is capitalise on this and launch more products specific to writers' beats. I'm thinking there are a lot of expert specialist, B2B journalists out there whose specialist knowledge could be made into a very interesting ebook product.
Lastly, instead of making these books itself, Forbes is partnering with Hyperink, which creates and sells ebooks from "experts and well-known bloggers". It's not rocket science creating your own ebook from scratch, but when you're doing it at scale it can be time-consuming, so perhaps a partnership like that makes sense. Incidentally, Forbes spends a lot of time - in Dvorkin's case, 20 hours - going back over its archive content and re-writing, re-editing and adding more content to create a fuller experience.
Thompson's ebook discount
I was surprised to see that Thompson is discounting its ebook editions quite heavily: a full-price version of this report into US private school funding is $59 but you can get the Kindle or iBooks/epub version for $47. Consumers have an expectation that online content should be cheaper - but that doesn't mean it should be thus; I'd like to think this is a misconception that can be overturned through some bold pricing and creative marketing in the future.
There are only so many I can mention here - so please let me know who I've missed in the comments. Big or small, I'd be interested to know who's doing interesting things in this area.
TheMediaBriefing is available in Kindle format - we publish some of our best original writing to the Kindle store in twice-yearly ediitons. Here is the last edition, the next one is coming out very soon.