Campaign articles from Newsweek become e-books for Amazon Kindle
By Richard Pérez-Peña
Monday, October 13, 2008
It would seem to be a magazine's dream in these straitened times: Take something you have already published and sold, repackage it and distribute it without all that expense of paper, ink and trucks, and then sell it again.
This week, Newsweek will publish four books, one about each of the major presidential and vice presidential candidates — Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Joseph Biden, and Governor Sarah Palin — books that will not appear in print but will be available only as e-books from Amazon.com for download to Amazon's Kindle device.
The books will contain versions of articles that Newsweek, owned by The Washington Post Company, has already published during the campaign. Turning this kind of collection into books is an old idea; what is new is to do it with such minimal production and distribution costs that even the most limited sales could be profitable.
Amazon says this is probably the first such venture by a publication, but it is not likely to be the last.
"We think it's a very interesting model that could broaden," said Ian Freed, an Amazon vice president in charge of the Kindle reading device. "This could start to change the way at least some books are published."
The books, at $9.99, will go on sale Wednesday and can be ordered starting Monday.
Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, approached Amazon with the idea about a month ago. The use of material published over the course of the campaign points to another advantage of digital books: a fast turnaround time.
"Every magazine editor thinks their stuff should be in an anthology, but that's hard to do economically," Meacham said. "Here's a way of doing it more quickly and with virtually no overhead. This is competing in the digital space with our traditional strengths, and that's been hard to do."
News magazines, like newspapers, have struggled financially, with circulation and advertising in decline. The economic downturn has cut deeply into advertising, while the magazines are forced to compete with many sources of information available instantly, and usually free, on the Internet.
The Kindle, introduced in November, costs $359. Amazon offers 180,000 books for wireless download, along with more than 40 newspapers and magazines.
The potential audience may be voracious, but it remains relatively small — Amazon will not say how many Kindles it has sold. Industry analysts have estimated that the figure is in the low hundreds of thousands.
But the experiment is appealing "because anyone who owns a Kindle is someone we want as a reader," Meacham said. "We're putting it in front of committed readers."
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