Flood of Magazine Publishers Entering E-Book Single Market

By Howard Polskin

In the last month, a number of major magazine brands have jumped head-first into the e-book single market. Since Aug. 16, Discover, Fast Company and Philadelphia Magazine have published significant works of nonfiction that have been released as e-book singles. These developments should be watched closely in the community of print content creators. Any sales success will ignite hopes among magazine and newspaper publishers about tapping into an important new revenue stream based entirely on consumer demand.

Here’s a roundup of the magazine involvement in the e-book single space that Thin Reads has tracked this summer.

Discover. When Editor-in-Chief Steve George was hired almost a year ago, he had his eye on publishing e-book singles for a brand that was synonymous with deeply researched, deeply informed stories. “Standalone stories that people could buy on an à la carte basis seemed like a no brainer,” he said. That led to the creation of Discover in-Depth, a new long-form series that launched this summer. The first e-book single published by the monthly is “Obsessed: The Compulsions and Creations of Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz,” by Steve Volk. The 74-page story focuses on a controversial psychiatrist and expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder. “It was a bit of a seat-of-the-pants launch,” admits George. “Volk has such a great fount of anecdotes and information. We decided to let him write what he wanted to write.” The first draft came in at 16,000 words. Later in September, a shorter version of the story will be included in the magazine. In other words, Discover is experimenting by releasing its major long-form content first to the e-book single marketplace and then it is making the stories available in the magazine to subscribers and single-copy purchasers. Later this year, Discover will publish its second and final e-book single of 2013 called “Ticked.” It’s about the controversies swirling around Lyme disease that has prevented many people from being diagnosed properly.

Philadelphia Magazine. Lisa DePaulo’s gripping 40-page nonfiction story “The Dead Girl in the Bathtub” marked Philadelphia Magazine’s initial foray into the world of e-book single publishing this summer. The article was the cover story in the September issue and then it came out Aug. 26 as an e-book single. “We assigned it at 5,000 words and it came in at 12,000 words,” says Editor Tom McGrath. In the decade that McGrath has been with the magazine, he’s never run an article at this length but DePaulo’s story seemed to merit it. The story is teased on the website and it drives readers to purchase the magazine or the e-book single. Later this year, Philadelphia Magazine will publish its second e-book single about an abortion doctor who was imprisoned for the murder of a baby in his Philadelphia abortion clinic. The author of the story is Steve Volk, who seems to be emerging as the go-to guy in the area of narrative nonfiction e-book singles.

Fast Company. “Design Crazy: Good Looks, Hot Tempers, and True Genius at Apple” marks the third e-book single from Fast Company (and this effort was co-published with Byliner) . But it is by far the magazine’s most ambitious effort in this area. The story, which is a riveting and revealing oral history of the Apple designers, was released first (in its longest form) as an e-book single at the end of August. Another shorter version of the story appears as the cover story for the October issue. And pieces of “Design Crazy” are available on the website. “Is the e-book single an extended magazine story?” asks Bob Safian, editor and managing director of the magazine. “We didn’t really think about it. We just did the reporting and decided to find the best way to package it.” Safian admits that he has no sales targets for “Design Crazy.” “These are early days,” he says. “We’re not in business to make money. We make money to stay in business.” Fast Company’s two other e-book singles, “Hacking Hollywood” and “Unplugged,” were compilations of previously published stories.

Of course, these three magazines aren’t the first to venture into the world of e-book singles. But their collective action within the space of such a narrow time frame suggests that a shift may be occurring among magazine publishers who are awakening to the revenue-generating possibilities of e-book singles. Other publishers who have released e-book singles include:

The Atlantic: In the spring, The Atlantic published the well-received memoir “Denial,” which was also a top 10 Kindle Single best-seller.

Esquire: Last November, Esquire published “The Esquire Four,” a collection of short stories. No other magazine publisher has produced a work of fiction.

GQ: By far the most active magazine publisher in the e-book single space. Titles include “Here Be Monsters,” “John McAfee’s Last Stand” and Josh “Argo” Bearman’s “Coronado High.” The stories are highly cinematic and it’s no surprise that Hollywood is sniffing.

National Geographic: The venerable publisher has issued several e-book singles including “Severe Weather” and “Radical Lincoln.”

Publisher’s Weekly: The bible of the publishing industry immediately hit the best-seller list this summer with the timely release of the Kindle Single “The Battle of $9.99,” an inside account of the e-book pricing wars.

Posted 9/8/13