Recently, two separate e-books about tech titans were released by competing publications. The first is from Business Insider and is a detailed biography on Yahoo's Marissa Mayer. The second is from Fast Company and is an inside look at the Apple design process and culture. The two carry many similarities in that they're backed by prominent publications, handled by premier writers from each organizations, boast serious access, and weigh in with some heft (the BI profile is more than 20,000 words and the Apple book is 91 pages). The fact that two news organizations are devoting resources to this type of digital effort is exciting and a relatively new development.
However, the most interesting about the books may not be in what they share but in how they differ. One is free and the other is not.
The BI profile hit the web last week and was immediately free of charge for all 20,000+ words. The Fast Company had an excerpt on their site, but for the full story, it needed to be purchased on Amazon for $1.99 or through a $5.99/month subscription to Byliner, the publishing partner of the story. BI is only making money from the story through impressions on the ads served next to it while Fast Company is taking the approach of charging for the work.
The numbers are just coming in, but BI claimed more than 900,000 pageviews within a couple days of releasing the story. A quick look at the social sharing stats shows that the free BI article has been tweeted more than 4,000 times and shared on Facebook more than 15,000 times. Those are some impressive stats and in addition to converting to ad dollars should also help to strengthen the BI brand to someone who is capable of creating meaningful, longform journalism. A reputation they don't really have at the moment (although they do rock at slideshows...).
The Fast Company e-book has only been out for today, but the shares on the article are only at 300 and 200 for Twitter and Facebook, respectively, well off the pace to catch the BI post. Additionally, the Amazon link hasn't had many shares, but perhaps that will change as people actually read it.
This post isn't to pass judgment on which approach is better, and quite frankly I'm not sure. It will be interesting to see if BI tries this approach again in the future and to see how the Fast Company piece does in the Amazon market. Either way, it's exciting to see different publications experimenting like this to try and find new, interesting approaches to content and generating revenue from their work.