28 February 2012

Rough Type: “Why publishers should give away ebooks”

Buy the atoms, get the bits free. That just feels right - in tune with the universe, somehow.

There's a lesson here, I think, for book publishers. 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. Nicholas Carr

It’s a bold idea – not very likely to see the light of day anyway – except…

I don’t really need both formats and I would certainly prefer the electronic version over the printed, for practical reasons if not in support of the environment. Given the choice between a printed-ebook bundle and ebook-only I would probably always go for the ebook. I rather like a suggestion from the comments to implement new strategies where pricing is based on usage, not asset sales – something similar to streaming for music. Think about it: how often do you read a book twice or more? You could regard the price you pay for the book as buying the right to read it once. Since reading a book takes much, much longer than listening to a song, it makes more sense to pay for single use than for unlimited access. It’s like trying out the book before buying. Loved it so much you just need to go through it again? Want to lend it to someone? Sure, pay for it a second time! This way the really good books get rewarded and the publishers and authors get a clearer picture of what people enjoy. Monthly subscriptions also come to mind…

Update: it looks like some services are already doing that, even though it’s German content and iOS only for now.

Amazon is also getting into the game, along with other start-ups.

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