If you can read Danish and enjoy nonfiction e-book singles, boy, are you in luck. Copenhagen-based Zetland has been publishing original e-book singles since March of 2012. Altogether, the company has released a dozen singles to the market, and a 13th will be published Monday, June 17.
Zetland’s most popular title is “The Heist,” which is the true story of the biggest robbery in the history of Denmark. It was a candidate this year for Denmark’s version of The Pulitzer Prize. Other titles include: “Seduced by Health,” a memoir by an Iranian-born journalist about her unhealthy obsession with living a healthy life; “The Twilight People,” a horrifying account of life on the bottom of the Danish narcotics supply chain; and “The Breakwater,” about a lowly Danish seamstress dominated the sport of open water ocean swimming.
The company was founded by former book editor Jakob Moll and his colleagues Silke Bock, Hakon Mosbech, and editor-in-chief Lea Korsgaard. “We quit our jobs (in 2011) because we wanted to figure out a new way to publish journalism,” explained Moll in a conversation with Thin Reads from Denmark. “The Danish newspaper business was in a depression.”
After securing a small grant, Moll engaged on a fact-finding tour including a trip to the U.S. where he met companies like The Atavist and Byliner. Moll and his colleagues reached a conclusion: “In order for Zetland to work, we had to produce the best journalism possible,” said Moll. Zetland’s first e-book single, published in the first quarter of 2012, was “The Heirs,” which chronicled the hidden class of powerful Danish nobility.
“We didn’t sell a lot of copies to start but we got enormous attention,” Moll said. “We started selling in the hundreds and now we’re in the thousands. We’re a long way from being a viable business model but we can make money doing other things. A lot of people are asking us to help with their journalism.”
While the financial future for Zetland may not be clear, the big advantage the company has in their small country is that they have virtually no competitors except for Berlingske, one of the Danish national newspapers, which started publishing e-book singles earlier this year. And Zetland has clearly established a brand that is synonomous with long-form quality journalism, which is a valuable commodity in the digital world.
Moll has found other small e-book single publishers in Europe including Longplay in Finland, and Informant in Italy. (There is also Ether Books in England. The company publishes made-for-mobile e-book singles that can be downloaded straight to smartphones.) They are all part of the emerging e-book single market in Europe.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Zetland had no competition in Denmark.
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