E-Book Publishing Rejuvenated at The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal was an early entrant into the e-book market compared to other non-book-publishing media companies.

In late 2010, the New York-based newspaper produced and sold its first e-books through a proprietary store powered by content store and e-commerce solutions company iAmplify*. Throughout 2011 and 2012, however, WSJ did little to enhance its e-book program.

“We had a couple of fits and starts selling e-books,” said Gail Griffin, general manager for digital of Dow Jones financial weekly newspaper Barron’s and new head of WSJ’s e-book business. (Dow Jones is the parent company for WSJ. It is, in turn, owned by News Corp.)

Griffin took over WSJ’s e-book project in the late spring and has been given the task of re-inventing e-books at the nation’s largest newspaper by circulation.

Since then, the company has brought several e-books to market, including a compilation of previously published material, The London Gold Rush: The Wall Street Journal’s Best of the 2012 Olympics, an enhanced e-book with text and video for $3.99; Checks & Balances: A Year in the Complicated World of Marriage & Money, a compilation of videos and columns by Katherine Rosman; and an upcoming title based on material from WSJ’s annual Women in the Economy conference, which will sell for $4.99 when it’s released on Sept. 19.

The books are being sold through WSJ’s proprietary e-book store as well as through Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. Non-enhanced versions are available as well. E-book production and distribution start-up Vook is the technology behind the titles.

Just a couple of bucks for an enhanced e-book?

“We think it’s a steal,” said Griffin.

Griffin wouldn’t share how many copies of the e-books WSJ has sold and said that marketing for the books is just getting started. The titles will be promoted throughout the WSJ digital network (WSJ, Marketwatch, Barron’s and several other properties) where readers are reading related content on the site. The books will also be advertised in print edition of the newspaper, through direct emails and through social media.

WSJ also plans on making money off of e-books through other channels, like using e-books as a tool in audience development and subscriber retention and with advertising.

“We see e-books as components of integrated [marketing] packages for advertisers who want to reach certain channels,” said Griffin.

There aren’t any ads in WSJ e-books yet but Griffin is exploring different options that can be offered to advertisers.

“We will monetize e-books through advertising in a smart way,” she said. “We’re not just going to slap some remnant advertising into a book. We’ll be doing something more sophisticated than that.”

Possibilities include sponsored free downloads of e-books.

Like many other non-book-publishing companies that have entered into the e-book business recently, WSJ is capitalizing on what it sees as a digital growth opportunity that is easily explored because of all the content the company already produces that can be repackaged.

“We’re sitting on this huge amount of incredible content and with the explosive growth of tablets and e-readers, I think that there’s a lot of potential for us to make money and also extend the reach of all this fantastic journalism that we do,” said Griffin.

Other media companies are thinking along the same lines.

Most recently, Playboy launched a series of shorts for the Kindle, the Washington Post announced an e-book program, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade publication focused on the higher education field, launched an e-book business. Other notable companies to jump into the space are magazine publishers Conde Nast and Hearst and NBC News, a division of NBC Universal.


NBC Publishing Update: New Business Models

In its first year, NBC Publishing has produced several titles and built “the business architecture to run the business,” said Michael Fabiano, general manager of NBC Publishing.

It also developed an interesting revenue stream that Fabiano says will come to be about 10% of the start-up publisher’s business.

One of the company’s biggest successes thus far has been Grimm: The Essential Guide, a free e-book recapping the first season of the NBC show Grimm. The book also featured a five-minute video of the season premier of Grimm. The book came out a week before the Aug. 13 premier, giving readers a taste of what was to come. As a marketing ploy for Grimm, the e-book was a success, said Fabiano. (Sidenote: NBC Publishing used iBooks Author to create the title.)

In addition to Mick & Keith: Never Stop, an enhanced e-book featuring writing and video interviews by music journalist Rona Elliot that will be for sale Oct. 2, NBC Publishing has several more marketing e-book projects in the pipeline.

“We love both [business] models and we think we have unique capabilities to support our brands and our shows,” said Fabiano. “We’re a small publisher and we’re just getting started.”

*Disclosure: One of the dozen or so books sold in WSJ’s first e-bookstore was a finance resume guide that the I edited. I also worked on other projects during my time at Dow Jones with the main source for this story, Gail Griffin, general manager for digital for Barron’s Online and head of e-books for WSJ.

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