Why Are We Still Not Bundling E-books?

Alex Crowley -- August 15th, 2013

The e-book vs. physical copy debate in publishing is for the most part, frankly, kind of a boring one. Some people like their e-readers, others—like myself—don’t care about them, and I’m sure there are others who like both for whatever reason(s). So, yes, there are 3 kinds of people in the world. Most talk from the consumer end tends to be about how one format is better/easier/more-papery/more-electrical than the other and that’s fine. Industry conversations seem to be about money, which to me is largely uninteresting, but I suppose if you have a financial stake in this it matters.*

Now I have a musician friend who basically only reads e-books these days. He asked me one day why publishers/presses weren’t offering a bundled physical copy and e-book package. I didn’t have an answer because, well, because it seemed so obvious that I couldn’t figure out why nobody was doing that either. In the music world, or at least in more “underground” scenes, it’s fairly common for bands/artists to offer free album/track downloads when you buy a physical copy, particularly if it’s vinyl. It’s standard practice on sites like Bandcamp, and I’ve even bought band t-shirts that come with an album download code.

So, yes… why aren’t more presses doing this? I get that the big houses probably aren’t going to be trendsetters here, but what about small/indie presses?

I took a cursory look into it and found that only Angry Robot has done something like this (through certain UK bookstores) and, geez, I can see why nobody followed suit, since it only tripled their sales on those bundled titles. That linked piece from TechDirt gets to most, if not all, of the salient points that my friend and I could think up: people like free stuff, you can lend a physical book while retaining an e-copy for future use, and—a big point that larger houses tend to miss—that you can’t monetize everything just because you think you’re leaving money on the table. (As far as that last point in concerned, that’s money you were probably never going to make in the first place since people aren’t generally going to buy both physical and electronic versions of the same book. It’s incredibly easy to pirate electronic versions of anything, whether it be games, music, books, etc.) It seems like an incredibly shortsighted strategy, IMO, but what do I know? This has only been been under discussion for several years now. Hey, even Nicholas Carr gets it.

Mostly right now I’m curious as to why publishers haven’t done this yet (and it’s been three years since B&N apparently tried doing it in their stores). Do the “numbers” just not pan out? Are there structural reasons that bundling doesn’t work?

 

*Please keep giving Publishers Weekly all your money. Thanks!

28 thoughts on “Why Are We Still Not Bundling E-books?

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  5. Lynn at American Book Center, Netherlands

    Our experience is that managing the validation and payment for e-books is more demanding than we can probably expect of most individual publishers. We’re independent booksellers selling self-imported English-language books and magazines in the Netherlands. Recently we started selling e-books from our website. As an introductory offer, anyone who buys an e-book from our site can back it up with a hard copy at 50% off within a couple months and if we have the physical copy in stock. We did this mostly for our loyal customers who do want e-booksas well as p-books, and prefer to buy them from us. After reading, if they decide to keep or give a physical copy to another person, we give them a good discount which essentially rewards them for coming into one of our two stores.

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