After the pieces fall apart, put then back together. Or in the jargon of our trade, after seeing disaggregation, re-aggregate.
News that Newsweek is leveraging the experimental Kindle to put together a package of its best election coverage over time, and making it available as a Kindle "book," selling it for $9.95, shouldn't be that significant. The news, in Richard Perez-Pena's Monday New York Times article, is that Newsweek isn't simply re-purposing whole its weekly editions. By exercising some selectivity -- dare we call it editing -- of content produced over time, it is stepping out of the pack.
We're so deluged with election coverage, and the Kindle ownership (several hundred thousand, it's estimated) is so small that I'm not sure this product will do great sales. I do think though that it presents a new way to think about packages of content, all acting on the basic web operating principle: produce once, distribute many. Further, it should open publishers' eyes about the flexibility of packaging and re-packaging news and feature stories, graphics, photos and videos in new, imaginative ways. In fact, the tools of re-aggregation shouldn't only be opened up to editors, but to their smart readers as well.
Consider how we think about the wrapper -- a daily newspaper "edition", or a magazine "edition" or a TV "show." We know what a story is, and the web has taught us that all of our editions and shows are subject to disaggregation, with the web, especially the search engines, creating a story-by-story approach to the world. As the physical wrapper has lessened in use (fewer print sales), subscription dollars have gone out the door. Publishers have been left trying to wring more cents per story in ad revenue online.
What the Newsweek Kindle experiment says is this: there are infinite ways to repackage content, and that the packaging of content -- added intelligence, selection, editing -- still has value, especially in a world of information overload.
Seize the principle, and we can see how publishers can unleash product development, and re-development. Newsweek could package its political humor, or emphasize the back-of-the-book content that often drives readership, as in religion, education, health and personal finance. The cost of new digital re-aggregation is practically zero, as compared to the kinds of physical re-aggregation that magazine and newspaper publishers have long done in special sections and annuals.
Even more intriguing though is the notion of allowing readers to re-package content from one or -- it gets much more interesting here -- several publishers to create digital editions that they want to read and to share. These could be sold, by subscription, as Newsweek is doing with the Kindle product, or available on a pay-per-view basis. Certainly, sponsorship and other kinds of advertising can be sold for them as well.
How could it happen?
I was reminded of a recent interview I did with Russ Reeder, new CEO of LibreDigital, a combined e-book/e-newspaper edition company, the latter formerly known as Newsstand. Reeder talked up the company's product, BookBuild. It allows professors, students and others to pick and choose chapters from a range of textbooks, to create their own curriculum. Mix and match, picking the most appropriate stuff for the learning at hand. LibreDigital calls them mash-ups, a term with which we're certainly familiar. But they're bigger, more whole mash-ups, and therein may lie the difference.
Whole packages show thought. Newspapers and newsmagazines are the ultimate knowledge products, great for everyday learning. The little Newsweek Kindle experiment and such products as BookBuild are very early steps in releasing great amounts of new knowledge into the world.
Sure, there are additional technology challenges and, undoubtedly digital rights challenges (ACAP calling?), but these are solvable. What's important is getting quickly beyond that first edition we've all been trained to concentrate on and onto the infinite editions that we and our audiences can now create using the journalism already created. More knowledge, more products and more sources of revenue. That's a new virtuous circle worth taking a spin around.