What is journalism worth?

What is journalism worth? That’s the question journalism managers and entrepreneurs have been trying to figure out ever since it became clear, years ago, that the Internet was disrupting local publishing monopolies.

And so we’ve endured years of conference panels, email exchanges, and blog posts about paywalls and paid content strategies, as publishers try to figure out exactly how much people are now willing to pay for news content.

Lost in this is the realization that people have been telling us – for generations – how much they’re willing to pay for news.

Start with newspapers. For most of my life, newspapers cost 25 or 50 cents per daily copy. Think how many stories appeared in each of those papers – perhaps a dozen or so staff-written stories at smaller papers, up to several dozen or more at a major metro. Add in the wire stories and syndicated features, too, and we’re talking about hundreds of items of content in each daily paper.

Now consider that the cost of the daily paper included home delivery of a physical copy and usually included a fair number of coupons, too. Subtract the value of the delivery, the copy on paper and the coupons. How much of that 25 or 50 cents is left? Not much. Divide that paltry remainder by the number of items of content in that paper. It ought to be clear that the marginal value to a consumer of each newspaper story is pretty much zero.

Let’s think about magazine stories. Magazines cost more, from a couple bucks to several dollars a copy. And they include fewer, though often longer and more in-depth, stories. Again, you’ve got the benefits of home delivery and a copy on paper (but typically not so many coupons as a newspaper, if any). Once you subtract the value of that delivery and the paper copy, you’re left with a much more than you had after you subtracted the same from the cost of a single issue of the newspaper. Divide that remainder by the number of stories in the magazine and you will probably find that each magazine article has some value – though it is small, ranging from a few cents to closer to a dollar for exceptional examples.

Still, it’s better than the newspaper articles’ value.

Now let’s consider books. A typical non-fiction book retails between $10 and $30 and usually has just one item of content within – the narrative of the book itself. (Anthologies are different, of course.) Again, you have the value of the printed copy, but there’s no home delivery (if there were, you paid extra for it) and almost always no coupons. Therefore, the marginal value of the content in a book is substantial – several dollars per work.

That’s the way it’s been in the past, and if you’re willing to face facts, that’s the way it remains today.

Consumers have told us what they believe the value of journalism to be. And in a market economy, consumers’ word is law. Incremental, commodity daily news reports have close to no cash value to the consumer. Longer, more in-depth magazine-style pieces have small but significant value, but almost always under a dollar and usually just a few cents.

Only book-length journalism has substantial per-unit value, in excess of $1 and often much more.

That is why I’ve been writing so much about eBooks lately. Incremental daily journalism traditionally has had no financial value to a publisher beyond its value as a vehicle for advertising. Magazine-length journalism has had some income value, but typically has relied upon a healthy amount of advertising income as well. Only book-length journalism has been able to rely consistently upon the income from its consumer value.

As Internet competition has cut the price of advertising, it has cut the income of publications – such as newspapers and many magazines – that are dependent upon the value of that advertising. But what the Internet took away from journalism in newspapers and magazines, it is giving back in books. Journalists who can produce book-length-and-quality work now have unprecedented ability to publish directly to a global marketplace. And the collapse in advertising revenue is not affecting them one bit.

Yes, there’s more competition in the book publishing space, too. But 1,000 eBook readers deliver a heck of a lot more income to a writer than 1,000 blog or newspaper website readers. If the journalism industry is going to keep professional reporters employed, books and eBooks are going to have to play a much larger role in this industry than they have in the past.

Tips for promoting sales of your eBooks, and other digital content

I’d like to follow my previous three articles on how to publish an eBook with some tips for increasing sales. While these tips are intended for promoting eBook sales, the principles behind them apply to promoting any digital content.

Ask your current readers

Any time you launch a new product, present it to your current readers and customers first. They’ve already demonstrated an affinity for your work.

I also think it’s a good idea to “beta test” new products, including eBooks, with selected readers before introducing them to the public. Your readers can provide fresh perspectives that alert you to issues you might have missed before launch.

While beta testing’s invaluable for catching buggy code, I think “early reviews,” if you will, from an audience can help you clean up and sharpen an eBook before publication. They are especially helpful if you’re truly publishing on your own, and haven’t otherwise had another set of eyeballs on your copy before you publish.

Your current readers are your viral agents, too. You need them telling their friends to tell their friends to buy your book, just as you need them telling their friends to tell their friends to read your website, “like” your pages on Facebook, etc. Do what you can to get them excited about your book.

You ought to know by know what resonates with your audience, so I won’t get specific here. Some audiences love a direct approach. Others like a sarcastic take. Pick what works with your readers. But do not neglect to engage them as you prepare your eBook for sale.

In the marketplace, pick your targets wisely

If your eBook is successful, most of your sales will come from people who aren’t your current readers, but who find you through the big online book retailers, most notably Amazon.com.

But how will prospective readers find your book among the millions for sale online?

Some strategy can help your book stand out. Three factors affect how many people will find your book when they are browsing through an online bookstore:

  1. How many books you’ve sold so far
  2. Reader reviews of your book
  3. The categories you select for your book

A strong launch with plenty of sales from your exiting readers can help with #1. Encouraging those loyal readers to submit reviews of your book cam help with #2.

But you need to choose your categories wisely on #3.

Why? Readers drill down through the retailer’s categories to find books, and while you need strong sales to appear high on the sales lists and good reviews to convert views to sales, not all categories require the same number of sales to move to the top of the best selling lists.

Drill down the retailer’s website to find the categories that you think best represent your book before you submit it. Don’t rely on the category drilldown within the submission interface. I found the hard way on Amazon that some of the categories available to publishers in the book submission interface don’t actually appear in the category drilldown on the Amazon.com website. Obviously, choosing those categories wasn’t helping my book to be seen by shoppers. I changed my categories to ones that appeared on the website and appeared in bestseller lists – with a sales boost – the next day.

Obviously, you shouldn’t pick an unsuitable category for your book’s topic, but it’s best to start in categories with lower overall sales, so you can move up the lists quickly. Pick the right categories, and sales in the dozens can get you on top sales lists on Apple’s iBooks and Amazon.com. Stay away from categories, such as “Humor,” which are dominated by books on the overall best selling lists.

Once you’ve increased your visibility and sales levels, maybe then you can move to other categories with more overall sales – but only after you’ve sold enough books to appear on their Top 50 or Top 100 sales lists.

Same principal applies to promoting any digital content. Start in niches, neighborhood and markets where you can win customers and notice, then expand into larger markets, if you feel the need.

Get social with other publishers

Don’t stop with your current readers and those who find you through the retailers. Reach out to other people publishing in the topics your book covers. Use your skills as a journalist to craft press releases to other publications and appropriate emails and messages to leaders of other online communities. Spread the word about your book. Offer sample chapters that others may publish. Make yourself available for interviews and chats.

And help make your case by returning the favor for other writers, too.

If you’ve isolated yourself from others publishing on your beat, this provides an opportunity for you to finally break that old-media habit. Whether you publish eBooks or not, online journalists ought to quit worrying about whether they’re sending readers to “competitors” by linking them or talking about them. Your readers know what’s out there. Spend your time and energy creating original and insightful coverage that others will want to link and discuss. Abandon the old gatekeeper model once and for all.

Become part of an online community that extends beyond your website, and you’ll develop the friendships and professional relationships that extend the social network you need to promote your best work. People who never get out and around because they’re trying to guard gates never enjoy those opportunities.

A journalist's guide to eBook publishing – part three

A journalist’s guide to eBook publishing – part one
A journalist’s guide to eBook publishing – part two

Now that you have an HTML file for your book, along with a cover image and all the images and other media that will appear within the book, it’s time to compile that information into eBook format.

Formats, actually. You might need to convert your eBook into multiple formats, due to requirements from the various major eBook retailers. Start by zipping your .html file, cover image and embedded image files into a single .zip file. (On Mac, that’s as easy as selecting the files, then Control-clicking them and selecting the “Compress” option.)

The two biggest online bookstores, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, will accept the .zip file as your eBook upload. However, I’ve had little success with this method producing a nice eBook with Amazon. There, I had to go ahead and used Amazon’s preferred method of running my eBook through Mobipocket Creator first.

On Barnes and Noble, though, the .zip file uploaded fine. Even better, using the preview option Barnes and Noble offers you after uploading your file, Barnes and Noble gives you a link with which you can download the ePub file that Barnes and Noble generates using your .zip file.

If you get lucky, and you formatted your HTML well, you can use that ePub file to submit to Apple’s iBookstore, as well as to other online eBook retailers. If not, you’ll need to read through the error messages that Apple throws to you, then recompile your .html file into ePub format using Calibre.

Before uploading anything, however, you’ll need to join the Big Three’s direct publishing programs. Follow these links:

In each case, you’ll need to create an account with each business. (A general Apple ID works with iTunes Connect.) Expect to wait up to a day or so for your application to each program to be approved, allowing you to then upload your eBooks. Once you’re good to go, try uploading your .zip file.

One more note on Amazon: There’s pricing quirk in Amazon’s commission structure that might influence your decision how much you charge for your eBook. Amazon offers a 70% commission to publishers (minus a 15 cent delivery charge), but only on eBooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. That means that if you planned to charge anything between $10 and $19.83, you’ll actually make more money if you drop the eBook price to $9.99, since you’ll get only a 35% commission on eBooks that cost $10 and more.

Since you want your book to appear on as many platforms as possible (and those platforms might not list you if you undercut their price on Amazon), that means you’ll need to drop your list price on all platforms to that level, as well.

If, once you’ve uploaded your eBook to Amazon, you’re not happy with the results, go ahead and try to rebuild the eBook using Mobipocket Creator. That’s a Windows program, and I use a MacBook Air for my publishing work. But rather than try one of the various work-arounds you can find searching the Internet (mostly involving running a Windows emulator on Mac), I just dusted off an old Windows laptop I had in the closet and installed the program there. I brought over my .html and .jpg files on a thumb drive and was good to go.

Here are your steps in Mobipocket Creator:

  • Under “Import from Existing File” select “HTML document”
  • Browse to your HTML file and click “Import”
  • Click “Cover Image” on left to upload your cover image.
  • Click “Add a Cover Image” then browse to that image. Select it, then click “Update” to save.
  • Click “Table of Contents” to create that file for your eBook.
  • Look for “Table of Contents Generation rules:”
  • Type h1 under “Tag name” in first cell on the “First Level:” row. Click the button to proceed or update.
  • If you have additional images embedded in your book, click “Add File” on the left to add those illustrations and other assets.
  • Click “Build” at top when ready to create file to upload to Amazon.
  • Once the build is finished, click next to “Open folder containing eBook” and select “OK.”
  • Your eBook file will be in .prc format, located in your My DocumentsMy Publications folder (unless you are hard-core geek and selected a different destination folder during the set-up process).

Upload that .prc file instead of the .html file when you edit your eBook on your Kindle Direct Publishing page. You can submit new books, or modify existing ones, by clicking the “Bookshelf” link at the top of the page when you log into KDP. (Depending upon your screen resolution, you might need to scroll right to get to the action button next to each eBook name.)

You will use the iTunes Producer program (Mac only) to upload to Apple’s iBookstore. Apple’s interface is easy to figure out, but Apple’s the most finicky retailer when it comes to accepting files. Formatting that worked with Amazon and Barnes and Noble will cause Apple to choke. Click “Create a New Package” to upload a new eBook, or “Open package” to modify an existing one. You’ll place metadata about the book under the “Book” tab, select and upload your ePub and cover image files under the “Assets tab, then click “Deliver” under the “Delivery” tab and hope for the best.

If Apple won’t accept the ePub file generated by Barnes and Noble, you can generate a new ePub file using Calibre. First, using the error data you get from iProducer, go back into your .html file and make whatever code changes you need to correct the error. Remember that you cannot have spaces or special characters in the file name of the .html file or of any embedded asset, including all your images.

Rezip your files using the corrected .html file, then import that .zip file into Calibre. Click “Add Books” if this is your first attempt, browse to the .zip file on your computer and select to import it. Then click “Edit Metadata” to add your book cover and authorship information. Click “OK” to save.

Finally, you’ll highlight your title and click “Convert Books” to begin the conversion process.

  • Select “EPUB” as your output format, in the upper right.
  • On the left, select “Structure Detection”. Under “Detect chapters at (XPath expression):” change that content to “//h:h1” (no quote marks.) Do the same under “Insert page breaks before (XPath expression):” Click “OK”
  • On the left, select “Table of Contents”. Next to “Number of links to add to Table of Contents” and “Chapter threshold” type the number of chapters in your book, including “chapters” for the copyright page, about the author or any other sections you’ve added. If you don’t know the exact number, guess high. So long as the number you type here is greater than the number of chapters in your eBook, you’re okay.
  • Under “Level 1 TOC (XPath Expression):” type “//h:h1” (no quote marks) again. Click “OK” to save.

Close the window to complete the conversion process. Once it is done (which should just take a moment), highlight your book title in the main window, then click “Click to open” under your cover image, on the right. That will open the folder with your .epub file, which you now can upload to Apple, or any other eBook retailer.

Once Apple’s accepted your files, you can expect to wait more than a week for Apple’s editorial review process to accept your book and list it the iBooks store. Acceptance and listing happens in just a day or so on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

There you go. We’re done. You are a published eBook author. Now it’s up to you to promote the heck out of what you’ve done. Be sure to tell every living person you know about your books. Post links to them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and your websites. Email family, friends and colleagues, in addition to including links in your email newsletters. Submit a class note about the book to your alma mater. If you want to earn a few extra cents from the sale of each book, join the Amazon and Barnes and Noble affiliate programs and generate links to your books through them.

Don’t just ask people to buy your books. Ask them to review them on the retailers’ websites, too. Reviews help increase the visibility of your books, as do sales.

EBook promotion is a whole ‘nother topic to discuss, and we will in the weeks ahead. But for now, live by this rule: You can’t ask too many people to buy your book.