Readers today are forced to choose between buying a physical book or an ebook, but a lot of them would really like to have both on hand – so they’d be able, for instance, to curl up with the print edition while at home (and keep it on their shelves) but also be able to load the ebook onto their e-reader when they go on a trip. In fact, bundling a free electronic copy with a physical product would have a much bigger impact in the book business than in the music business. After all, in order to play vinyl you have to buy a turntable, and most people aren’t going to do that. So vinyl may be a bright spot for record companies, but it’s not likely to become an enormous bright spot. The only technology you need to read a print book is the eyes you were born with, and print continues, for the moment, to be the leading format for books. If you start giving away downloads with print copies, you shake things up in a pretty big way.
So why give away the bits? Well, traditional book publishers have three big imperatives today: (1) protect print sales for as long as possible (in order to fund a longer-term transition to a workable new business model); (2) help keep physical bookstores in business (for the reasons set out in this article by Julie Bosman); and (3) do anything possible to curb the power of Amazon.com, the publishers’ arch-frenemy. Bundling bits with atoms helps on all three fronts. First, you give people an added incentive to buy a print book. When it comes to paperbacks, in particular, a customer essentially gets the physical and electronic copies for the price they’d pay for an electronic copy alone. That changes the buying equation. Second, you do something that helps physical bookstores in their own end-of-days battle with Amazon. Suddenly, they have a strong new sales pitch. Third, by offering the ebooks in a standard, non-proprietary format (ePub, say), you make the Kindle, which doesn’t handle the ePub format, considerably less attractive, particularly for anyone buying their first e-reader. (Why buy one that’s not going to accept those free ebooks you’re going to get when you decide you want a print edition?) Either Amazon stands firm with its proprietary format, or it retools the Kindle as a general purpose reader that can handle ePub. If it chooses the former course, it loses e-reader market share. If it takes the latter course, it weakens its grip on sales of ebooks and weakens the rationale for subsidizing Kindle purchases. There’s also one other potential benefit for publishers, which could be very important in the long run: By setting up their own site where customers download free ebooks, they open a direct relationship with book readers, something they’ve never really had before.
I think the premise of this article is flawed from the outset, namely, that readers would like to have both an ebook and physical copy of a book. I don’t see any evidence of that anywhere. I know lots of people who’ve made the jump to ereading, and every single one of them, without exception, has said farewell to print. Once you get hooked on ereading, you come to realize just how cumbersome print reading really is. Physical books are awkward to hold with one hand (slim paperbacks, maybe, but hardcovers? No way), have no built in dictionary, no ability to resize or change fonts, no ability to instantly purchase a new book any time of the day or night.
I simply don’t see a groundswell clamoring for this option, regardless of its technical feasibility.
Read the rest at RoughType.com.