March 7, 2014 Last Updated 11:36 am

The Tribune’s partner, Agate Digital, sees eBooks as way to monetize, experiment with previously published content

The Chicago Tribune’s partner in its new eBooks project  is Agate Publishing, an Evanston, Illinois book publisher, established in 2003. The publisher has a number of different imprints inlacing Surrey Books, which publishes food, dining and drink books; Bolden, an imprint the company acquired in 2006 which features African-American writers; B2, its business imprint; Midway, which publishes regional books including cookbooks; and its newest, Agate Digital, which is exclusively dedicated to eBooks.

home_logo_DigitalDoug Seibold, president of Agate Publishing, saw the area metro newspaper as a perfect partner for the publisher and sought out the right contacts at the Tribune.

“We started just about two years ago, and we worked out an arrangement whereby Agate would create stand-alone eBooks out of published Chicago Tribune content,” Seibold told TNM.

“We collaborate with the Tribune on determining topics. Then our team, working with a liaison at the Tribune, creates the books and the covers, and then we publish them through our Agate Digital imprint, which is devotes solely to stand-alone eBooks.”

The first project, in the fall of 2011, resulted in a book based on the paper’s food section. Through this project Seibold got to know the players at the Tribune, which resulted in the more formal relationship.

“To me, and for the Tribune – not that I can necessarily speak for them – the idea that the eBook format represented a way to,  not only think about digital production and delivery and consumption of books, but also an opportunity to monetize what heretofore was delivered for free on the web.”

Seibold sees the eBook format as a good way to test and experiment with material. Rather than starting with print and converting the book to digital, the Tribune projects are eBook-only, then may be considered for publication in print.

“It was at the end of 2013, towards the early part of 2013, that we started talking about doing some print titles, the first several that we did were essentially print versions of eBooks that we published with them,” Seibold said.

AgateBooks-lg“Developing print projects is costly, bringing them to market is costly. The potential the eBook format has as sort of a proving ground… is exciting. It is one of the dimensions of the eBook platform that has been under appreciated to this point.”

What interests Seibold most about eBooks is the platform’s ability to produce variable type sizes, the ease of experimentation with pricing, marketing and retail platforms. Seibold said he wants to learn about consumer behavior and is far less interested in interactive eBooks that contain multimedia features, seeing that as being available online, and generally for free.

“I wasn’t sure why someone would embrace an eBook if the key feature you were signaling to people was not so much the reading experience as it was these other multimedia elements. People are very, very used to encountering (these things) on the web, and moreover for free. The idea for years for websites was to give away multimedia content for free, or that you monetize through advertising.”

Because of this, Agate Digital eBooks are produced in ePub and .mobi formats for Apple’s iBooks Store, and other digital bookstores. For Seibold, his publishing efforts are attempting to deliver books for those who want a true book reading experience, rather than one that may be closer to what is delivered through apps.

“The main thing we are seeing is that the eBooks that are really the most successful are straight up reading experiences, and in some ways the purest sort of reading experience you can get in terms of plot driven narrative fiction, that what people are embracing in the eBook format. Genre fiction: thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi, romances, that sort of material.”

If there can be any criticism of Agate’s approach to eBooks, it would be that they appear to be forcing content into a predefined format. While narrative fiction works well in ePub, text heavy eBooks, some material can benefit from the ability of interactive eBooks to deliver material that provides different information. For instance, a history book that talks about World War II, in ePub, would try and describe FDR’s speech following Pearl Harbor. An interactive eBook could show it via embedded video. Because the Tribune’s projects are not mysteries or thrillers, they may benefit from a different approach to eBooks that could utilize more kinds of material, especially as the Tribune begins to add more HTML5 animation for info graphics, and  audio and video content for its website.