By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Leave it to Sourcebooks to lead the pack in digital publishing innovation.
With the release of eight short-form enhanced e-books, a series dubbed 2Go, the Naperville, Ill., company again established itself as one of the most experimental companies in the digital book business.
The 2Go line of enhanced e-books consists of short-form text and multimedia books (mostly audio) that will be sold exclusively in the Apple iBooks store for $2.99. Four of the eight books currently available for sale are about major composers and four are about past U.S. Presidents.
“It’s very much an experiment,” said Todd Stocke, Sourcebooks vice president and editorial director, who oversaw the project. “It’s a test of the technology and a test of the format.”
Other digital publishers will be observing how the Sourcebooks experiment plays out. If consumers are happy with the product, platforms and pricing, other publishers could be enticed to try to mimic the success.
“I will be watching with great interest,” said Hachette Digital senior vice president Maja Thomas.
The material from the books comes mostly from two Sourcebooks print titles, The Classical Music Experience by Julies H. Jacobson II and My Fellow Americans by Michael Waldman.
The Classical Music Experience retails in print for $39.95, comes with several CDs of audio and covers the life and careers of roughly 50 famous composers through text and brief audio snippets. Each title in the 2Go series covers one composer – and covers them more comprehensively than the original work.
“One of the challenges of classical music was that I could only fit 79 minutes of audio onto a CD,” said Stocke. The Mozart enhanced e-book alone has about 40 minutes of Mozart music – as opposed to a few brief samples in the original work, Stocke said.
Creating each e-book was more than a matter of re-purposing already-existing content. Sourcebooks had to acquire new content – mostly audio – which added to the production time and complication. Each enhanced e-book took between two weeks and two months to produce, according to Stocke.
There are eight 2Go enhanced e-books currently for sale. Sourcebooks has four more 2Go books in a poetry line that are ready to sell but is waiting to complete several more before bringing them to market. The company has another five-to-eight composer e-books and the same number of President titles in its production queue for this year. According to Stocke, Sourcebooks plans to scale its production of poetry books “dramatically.”
For now, the enhanced e-books are only sold in the iBooks store. The company plans to launch on the Nook as soon as possible.
Each platform will require a different “build,” said Stocke, which will take time. The books work equally well on the iPad or on Apple iPhone, the platform that the books are designed to be read on.
The books will be marketed and sold to established music, history and poetry enthusiasts through niche enthusiast publications and communities, but is also intended for beginners. The company hopes to tap into the education market. A new Sourcebooks division, Sourcebooks EDU, has its own marketing and sales staff and will work to sell the e-books to educators, according to Stocke.
Sourcebooks made headlines at the Digital Book World conference in January when it announced its new “agile” publishing model where a book is developed along with an online social media community, which influences the final product. At the conference, Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah invited some 1,000 publishers who were in the audience to participate in the open-source project.
The company has received press attention for other innovative moves, including becoming the second publisher in the U.S. to become an Apple developer. The company has since developed and sold many apps.
“We’re becoming a technology company,” Raccah told a Chicago Tribune reporter in September 2010.
While the 2Go series will be an experiment for the independent publisher, other kinds of companies are engaging in similar experiments. NBC Publishing, for instance, was launched in part to develop book projects based on re-purposing multimedia content that NBC News owns.
Sourcebooks has not projected how many 2Go books it plans on selling or how profitable the project will be. Leaping before looking has been a hallmark of the company’s recent moves and has kept it at or close to the cutting edge in digital publishing.
“In many ways, our multimedia projects have always been leaps of faith,” said Stocke. “We have no idea how well it will work.”
So far, it’s been working well. The company reported 19% revenue growth overall in 2011 and 795% revenue growth for e-books, which now represent 28% of the company’s revenue.
“We follow a lean start-up sort of model. Test, test, test, adapt, test some more. See what people love and give them more of it,” said Stocke.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield
Multimedia concept photo via Shutterstock