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The Odd Couple: Bundling Print and Digital Books

Bundling Print and Digital Books = The odd coupleLast week, after my observation that Waterstones is not in a better position to offer bundling now than it was last year, I had a brief debate on Twitter about pros and cons of bundling print and digital during which someone (oh so rightly) asked the question: ‘do customers even want an eBook version of the printed novel they just bought?’ This led to a couple of posts, and Sam Missingham brought out some numbers over on the Futurebook blog from a survey done with 4,000 customers 9 months ago. Here’s a summary:

Exactly half of those questioned simply were not interested in having a digital edition of a print book they had just bought. Of the other 50% that were interested, almost half (24% of total respondents) thought that the e-book should be available for free. Overall, 26% (just over half of those interested in the e-book idea at all) were open to paying for this feature, with 1 in 10 of those questioned willing to pay up to £1 extra for a digital edition of a book they bought.

In other words, very few people are willing to pay for it, and half said they don’t want bundling print and e versions of the same book at all. I’m personally willing to bet a not insignificant amount that those who said they wouldn’t say no to a free eBook with their hardback probably wouldn’t say no to a free cheese sample, either, or a 2 for 3 deal on coke. Would they be bothered if they’d only bought one can at normal price? Probably not.

When it comes to bundling a hardback and eBook (in trade), what you’re selling is the experience of a bargain. And it’s a dangerous experience for publishers to be trading in when it’s so important that digital retains its sense of worth given the rate of eBook uptake. Yes, eBook sales will flatten out, but publishers and authors will suffer if consumers decide that eBooks are worth the same as, for example, apps.

More than this, people aren’t looking at bundling from a customer point of view, even when they say they are. As Philip Jones points out, they’re looking at it from a ‘save print’ point of view – using digital as leverage to help print sales. Here’s an idea: look at what opportunities eBooks can afford us as a medium in its own right. For example – bundling front list and backlist ebooks in a series at a moderate discount (similar to – and know it feels like putting my hand in a blender to say this – Pottermore).

This is the ebook equivalent of this but is a lot easier to manage. As a publisher you don’t sacrifice a huge margin, and as an author you have the opportunity to get people reading your whole series, rather than attracting tyre kickers with one standout marketing campaign.

And I bet readers would buy into it.

I think this ‘eBook box set’ idea is already being implemented by Amazon (quelle surprise) and a few publishers to some extent but it could be used really creatively as a promotional tool to benefit both established and upcoming authors. Why bundle a hardback with its eBook equivalent when you can bundle 10 eBooks far more easily? Maybe we need less focus on trying to ‘save’ print and more focus on what people are likely to buy that will lead to more reading.

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Felice Howden

Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.

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