What We Know About NBC eBooks (so far)

NBC is one of the most intriguing names we’ve seen venture into the world of ebooks and digital publishing recently. The newly-launched NBC Publishing plans to release 30 ebooks in 2012.

And while this isn’t the very first combined effort of book publishing and media companies (examples — Simon & Schuster, owned by CBS; Hyperion, owned by Disney; Harper Collins, owned by News Corp.), other large media companies are most certainly going to be paying close attention to NBC’s ebook venture.

Wired (“NBC Publishing Wants to Prove a TV Company Can Make Better E-Books”) has a particularly excellent discussion on what all this might mean. And as Wired does well to point out, there are a number of factors in NBC’s favor that could make the move into digital publishing a savvy move —

Content: With an emphasis on NBC news content, it’s not hard to imagine how current news footage could be “reverse-engineered” into ebook-type publications. Not to mention, NBC has about 90 something years worth of archival footage to choose from:

“we have incredible material sitting on the shelf that nobody sees” — events, interviews, outtakes, everything that was ever caught on camera for NBC’s news, sports, or entertainment division, whether it ever aired or not.”

Talent and resources: What NBC might lack in book industry experience, it could more than make up for in terms of resources, which are considerable —

“resources from throughout all of NBC Universal. Universal Films, NBC Entertainment, Bravo, Sci-Fi or USA talent could all contribute to stories; in turn, book projects could be developed to align with projects elsewhere NBC knows how to work with video. They have experienced editing and production talent and dedicated production facilities. “For us, it’s sunk cost,” says Fabiano. “A traditional publisher has to build or purchase that capability.” Or outsource it to someone else — either way, it’s generally more difficult for them to scale up”

Copyright management: Copyright doesn’t get mentioned all that much in your usual ebooks articles, but it’s really, really important:

“Multimedia books bring new experiences to readers, but new challenges to publishers — like clearing rights to audio and video clips. Forget uploading something to YouTube — imagine the copyright headaches that will happen when amateur authors start embedding videos in their iBooks, by the thousands — and then trying to sell them in Apple’s store.”

In addition, Engadget (“NBC News grows a digital publishing arm, plans 30 titles for 2012”) could envision NBC ebooks taking a Kindle Singles-like approach:

“Under the company’s newly minted NBC Publishing imprint, coverage related to current events, docs and bios, in addition to content culled from other NBC Universal divisions, will get a second life as either digital singles (think: longer than an article, shorter than a few chapters) or straight-up eBooks, with about 30 titles slated for this year.”

While we wait to see what’s next with NBC ebooks, Publishing Perspectives (“Combining the Television and Publishing Mindset”) helpfully points out that NBC has collaborated with Penguin on enhanced ebook type projects in the past. For what it’s worth, the JFK enhanced ebook looks great on the iPad —

“While NBC may seem like an unlikely new player in e-books, it has co-published several enhanced e-book editions in the past year, including JFK: 50 Days and a 30th anniversary edition of Roots, both joint projects with the Perseus Books Group; and D-Day: The Battle for Normandy and Berlin 1961, both in partnership with Penguin.”

To get a sense of what NBC ebooks might look like, here’s the JFK: 50 Days, enhanced ebook.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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