Schnittman to Futurebook: sell digital with hardbacks

With all the excitement of the past weekend (round-up forthcoming for all who weren’t there, and those who were but got hit on the head on the way home and subsequently forgot), you’d be forgiven for failing to realise conference season is still in full swing. This week it was The Bookseller’s busy FutureBook event

Yesterday saw the conference’s keynote address delivered by Evan Schnittman, m.d. for group sales and marketing, print and digital at Bloomsbury, who proffered an innovative suggestion to ease the transition between print and digital, one that still satisfies those on either side of the debate: package a digital copy of a book alongside its hardback edition for an extra 25% of the price. That way, print die-hards are able to keep a physical copy of every book they read on their shelves whilst also having a copy that’s easier to read on the move.

We’ve drawn parallels between the transition to digital in publishing and the same move in other media before, so in a sense it’s surprising nobody’s thought of this already. Film studios are regularly packaging dual Blu-Ray/DVD titles to encourage the switch to high definition home viewing; some even throw in a digital copy for viewing on computers and iPods.

Likewise – in a move that mirrors almost exactly the logic behind Schnittman’s idea – record companies continue to put out vinyl copies of albums to satisfy audiophiles/music snobs/those who fetishise the record as a physical object (check, check and check on the part of your humble author), but acknowledge that those same audiophiles/music snobs/fetishists all probably have iPods because otherwise their commutes would be unbearable, and so include links and codes that allow the buyer to download at no extra cost an mp3 copy of the record they’ve just bought.

It’s the kind of move aimed at buyers who don’t want the physical product to be completely supplanted by the digital – at least until the digital can fully match the aural/visual/tactile/whatever quality of the physical – but who can also acknowledge the convenience provided by the digital, and would appreciate being able to have both. Schnittman’s right: bringing readers together under a purchase that benefits them no matter their preferences makes far more sense than splitting them into separate factions at a time when publishing really needs to present a united front.

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