Editor’s Note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with their Winter 2011 issue,”Writing the Book,” which focuses on the new relationships between journalism and the evolving book publishing industry. Over the next few days, we’ll highlight a few stories from the issue — but go read the whole thing. In this piece, Federica Cocco writes about how the French site Owni is investing in ebooks in a big way.
Visit Owni.fr and adjacent to its logo, among French words and enticing graphics, is its English tagline: News, Augmented. The words reflect the website’s ambitious spirit, its dictum, and manifesto: to present news with an added layer of digital bonuses — maps and apps and interactive infographics. An intriguing red circle on a tiny pull string hangs from the top of our homepage. Scroll over the circle and the OwniShop logo appears. Move it away, and the logo vanishes.
This understated, almost coy advertising strategy mirrors Owni’s tentative ebook sales strategy. Though ebook sales in France are rapidly picking up, especially with the Kindle store opening this past October, Owni is the first media outlet in France to sell ebooks as part of its core editorial output.
The Owni website features augmented and data-driven stories and investigations. Blogger and Web entrepreneur Nicolas Voisin founded Owni in 2009 at a time when bloggers were involved in a massive campaign against France’s passage of the antipiracy HADOPI law involving copyright issues. With Owni, he created a platform for the blogging community and he hired staff to oversee the content, its presentation, and its distribution. The website’s editorial focus is promoting freedom of expression.
Like other websites in France, Owni receives a government subsidy and brings in some money through fundraising. Voisin’s Web agency 22Mars, founded in 2006, takes in revenue from the sale of various products related to Owni, including apps, online platforms, interactive maps, and infographics. Yet none of these items sells enough to make a profit. Will selling ebooks make a difference? It’s too soon to know.