The Future of Publishing: Ebooks, E-Singles and Their Potential for Business

Davar Ardalan is the Senior Producer of NPR’s Tell Me More, and author of the recent iBooks-exclusive title, The Persian Square a digital book that culls together over 30 media files including audio and video, weaving a modern, multimedia tapestry of Iranian American history going back to the 1800s. Ms. Ardalan contributed the guest post below.

It’s hard to define today’s media architecture, but the success of Amazon’s Kindle Singles and steady sales for the digital publishing start-up Byliner prove that Americans are ever more eager to dive into an electronic book for their reading pleasure or for some in-depth news.

In 2012, ebook sales made up over 22 percent of the U.S. publishing industry’s net revenue, according to The Association of American Publishers. Media companies looking to diversify their revenue stream might want to take note.  According to The New York Times, Amazon sold five million copies of Kindle Singles since it opened in January 2011. Amazon created an e-singles digital platform back in 2011, allowing writers of non-fiction and fiction to publish original writings between 5,000 and 30,000 words. These e-singles also known as e-shorts or Quick Reads by Apple are meant to be read in one sitting.

David Leonhardt's E-Single Here's the Deal from Byliner and the NYTimes
David Leonhardt’s E-Single produced as a collaboration between Byliner and the New York Times

The New York Times has also entered the ebook business. In December 2012, The Times teamed up with Byliner, a leading publisher in the e-shorts space and launched it’s own line of ebooks featuring The Times culture, sports, business, science and health stories. The Times/Byliner collaboration seemed like a “perfect fit” says Byliner Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Mark Bryant. “Byliner is all about ambitious storytelling that lives in the space between magazine and books, and the opportunity to tap into such a deep, smart talent pool at The Times has made our partnership all the better.”

Two examples of successful Times/Byliner collaborations in the past six months include David Leonhardt’s Here’s the Deal, detailing the ever-contentious debate over the deficit, and Adam Liptak’s To Have and Uphold, on the struggle over same-sex marriage.

Bryant says both of these original Times/Byliner productions have been particularly well received, “There is a sweet spot for these types of stories — original, well written, ambitious narratives on some of the most compelling issues of the day.”  He notes that declining newspaper and magazine revenues have meant fewer and fewer opportunities for writers to publish ambitious narratives.

Bryant says the addition of the mobile reading experience and it’s new subscription reading service or “streaming reading” make digital short stories even more relevant and accessible.

“Stories are being squeezed into tighter and tighter spaces,” Bryant notes, adding that readers are looking for great personalized recommendations that help them “cut through all the clutter and noise and also takes into account how much time they have to read.”

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Guest Post: Davar Ardalan on Publishing as an iBooks Author

Davar Ardalan is the Senior Producer of NPR’s Tell Me More, and author of the recent iBooks-exclusive title, The Persian Square, which spans the extraordinary range of Iranian-American self expression, chronicling the myriad and indelible contributions Iranian emigres have made over their decades, fashioning American lives out of Persian identity and traditions. Ms. Ardalan contributed the guest post below.

the persian square by davar ardalanThanks to Apple, iBook Author brought out the digital journalist in me.  As a long-time radio producer, I never thought I’d be capable of creating an interactive digital page much less a full scale digital book.  I wrote and produced The Persian Square, all from the comfort of my home office just off the Severn River. In the process, I managed to integrate over 30 media files, including audio, video, photographs and text. On March 4th,the book debuted on iTunes in Apple’s iBookstore and made it to the Top 10 Charts for History.

iBooks is Apple’s publishing system for books, some of which also are published in print, and some are online only. Books created specifically for the online platform can take advantage of the unique interactivity of reading on a computer or tablet to create a whole new reading experience. Those books can then be sold and marketed online, and are available for purchase from Apple. It’s a great opportunity for authors with something to say to reach an audience directly, and skip a lot of the red tape that comes with the traditional publishing world.


I have been in public broadcasting for over twenty years and currently in the middle of a major reboot myself, as I learn how to integrate new media platforms with traditional forms of journalism that have defined my craft. Tablets are ubiquitous now and the mobile public is eager to interact with content on these new devices.  As I researched ways to build new storytelling spaces, iBook Author fascinated me. The software is versatile and vast in possibility for those of us looking to engage the mobile public with our content.

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Meet Medium: The New Publishing Platform from the Twitter Guys

Earlier this week the Obvious Corporation, the company led by Twitter co-Founders Biz Stone and Ev Williams, announced a new product aimed squarely at the publishers of content. It’s called Medium, and it while it may remind you of a lot of Web 2.0 platforms you’ve seen before, it manages to be new without being hard to understand.

Medium Collection Example
The Obvious Corporation’s Collection on Medium

The basic idea behind Medium, at least according to Ev Williams, is that it should be a place to publish that rewards and promotes quality while still being open to everyone, including the unknown individual. Publishing is of course the domain of Obvious, given that before they created Twitter the same people were responsible for Blogger, which helped unleash self-publishing on the world.

The Medium platform itself is flexible enough to allow lots of kinds of content, including photos, videos and text (long or short form). Those individual pieces of content are then organized into collections. The Medium team has posted examples, including travel photography and crazy stories. Collections are either open or closed to submissions, depending on the creator of the collection, but all pieces of content can be voted on by users. The most popular (ie highest quality) items go to the top of the list, ostensibly to relieve readers of sifting through tons and tons of stuff. Read More