WHEN? The Inevitable Reality of Multi-Binding Bundling

In order to exhume the lede, here’s the most important bit: Atomic Fez Publishing hereby publicly commits to bringing bundling of eBook editions of all of its titles when someone purchases printed copies of them.

Now that you know that, there’s a fair bit in this particular topic to be unpacked, so shove this page into your favourite “text only display” application, bookmark it to read when you have more time, or simply get comfy and learn why.

Four Bindings, One Book, Lots of Convenience
Four Bindings, One Book, Lots of Convenience

Something I’ve hemmed and hawed about since starting Atomic Fez back in the autumn of 2009 has been the idea of selling a printed copy of a book along with a copy of the electronic version of the same title; either as a free add-​​on or at a nominal, additional fee.  When this series of questions comes to mind, I’ve occasionally shoved something out into the ether via Twitter or Facebook, to little response. That being the typical result, I usually shrug and put it at the back of my mind for contemplation later.

Then there was an announcement last week about a new programme from Amazon wherein a purchaser of a printed copy automatically gets a Kindle copy as well. There’s some limitations with this to start: titles are only from a selected list of 10,000 titles, this offer is only within the USA (until they sort out the usual distribution agreements with publishers presumably), and so on.

Yet again, it got me thinking about the idea and was it something Atomic Fez should do: would anyone notice, would they care, would it actually be something that would make people decide to buy a book that they might not consider otherwise? Once more deciding to think about this whole idea later, I returned to whatever happened to be screaming at me the loudest from my in-​​box.

Later that same day, I saw this about that Amazon announcement:

This made me wonder perhaps this is the time that the market is ready; perhaps I am now ignoring the Will of the People, and – instead of being ahead – am behind their desires regarding books & technology? If that last bit was the case, it would be the break in a record of having been well-​​ahead of the curve with both the offering of eBooks and ensuring they were DRM–free. This was a bit of a blow, as I’ve prided myself on being both a pragmatist as well as an anticipator of readers’ needs.

So I tweeted the following:

To this, there was a surprising amount of response, and much of it practical as well as media-​​savvy! Granted, it was Twitter; well known as a repository of media-​​savvy people.

For the most part, I agree with all of the above.

For the most part, you’ll find it difficult to get a CEO of one of the Big Six Publishers¹ to agree with much of anything above.

Preconceived Notions

The trickiest bit, in the minds of the “Important People in Big Buildings,” is this tweet:

As far as The Deciders are concerned, that’s at least half-​​wrong and their mind-​​set is entirely based on something of which you may never have been aware:

You do not own the books on your shelves, and you never have. As David says, you’re buying the ‘rights’ to the content, but your access to those words is specifically limited to only that specific copy in that binding. You have have no right – expressed or implied – and thus should have no expectation to access any other copy of those words in that or any other binding. You don’t even own the copy, only the access to its contents. Period. 

You see, the book (in whatever form the binding takes) is simply a way to get words into your eyeballs. Thus, if you want access to the story, you have to buy a copy of the book – hardcover, paperback, ePUB file, Kindle file, PDF, whatever – and you’re expected to buy a new copy every time you want to change the way you access those words carefully arranged in a specific order by an author. A paperback is bought which permits you access to those words in that specific format, and with that specific copy only. If you want a copy of the story in a hardback, or a Mass Market Paperback, or a Large Print edition, or whatever, you better be ready to shell out more money. The same holds true when you want to get a copy of the book in an eBook format of your choosing: you’re entering into a new agreement with the publisher for access in a different fashion.

This is the same purchasing model we saw with the music labels selling us our LPs on 8-​​Track, Reel-​​to-​​Reel tape, Compact Cassette, Compact Disc, then on newly re-​​mastered CDs so that the audio is compressed (making it louder and less precise, but don’t get me started on that topic), and now as MP3 or AAC files. A bit of a scam, yeah… but, hey, we’ve been getting away with it for years, people! seemingly is the approach of the Big Six Publishers, using the example of different bindings in the previous paragraphs.

Part of the problem with this shocker of a statement – the problem, as seen by the Big Six, is that it happens to be a shock, not that the situation is as outlined; they’re fine with that – is that it’s only with the recent innovation of eBook technology as a practical format that they’re finally able to enforce in a meaningful way something they’ve tried to do for years: shutdown used book selling and trading. All of those represent “lost sales” in their eyes, just as Public Libraries do. People walk in, take a copy of a book, then walk out… without paying for it…? Who authorized this anarchy…? The fact that the biggest proponent and creator of public libraries was Multi-​​Ka-​​Billionaire Andrew Carnegie is something that seems to escape their notice, but let’s never mind about that.

The inherent flaw in the taking of the attitude the Big Six do is simple: people don’t use their products that way. People lend books to others, with the recommendation this author is awesome, you should read his stuff; try this one first. What that supposedly incorrect instance is doing is akin to “hand selling,” were it to take place in a bookshop: the salesperson recommends a particular book, puts a copy in the customer’s hand, the customer has a look at it, and nearly always buys the book. It’s one of the most labour intensive, and sure-​​fire, sales techniques in the industry. Even if a copy is passed to someone without any payment being involved, the end result is fantastic word-​​of-​​mouth advertising, and you can’t value it enough.

Unless you’re a CEO at one of the Big Six.

The fact that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy probably made more money for Pan Books through that grassroots level marketing style has been forgotten. Just like anyone, I found out about the five-​​part trilogy² because someone handed me a copy of the first book in Grade 9, told me to read it, and half-​​way through I knew that I had to buy the entire run of them. If no one had bothered to do that, would we have ever heard about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and so on? It was the same thing again, only for a younger audience who took to wizards in the same way the first crowd took to men wearing dressing gowns in space. It’s a kind of “the first taste is free, baby” approach to getting you trying something³.

There is an argument to be made against used book shops, and you’ll read that in a post next week, but that’s not the point here: it’s the fact that publishing has done a very poor job of explaining how it works, how it does business, and how the price is determined in the end when you buy something.

Cold, Hard Facts of the Publishing Business

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start being an apologist for the Big Publishers. What I’m doing is explaining where they’re coming from, the poor dears.

The RRP [or “Recommended Retail Price” you see printed somewhere on the cover] is what everything is based on: the royalties the author gets are based on a percentage of the RRP, the retailer is charged a price based on a discount subtracted from the RRP (typically 40 – 60%), and whatever is left is for the publisher to pay all of their costs getting that book to the retailer and customer.

  Speaking of distribution, here’s an article providing “3 Takes on Why Bookstores Are Dead (and Why That Might Not Be Such a Bad Thing)” partly explaining how bookstores might actually only support the old-​​fashioned – and arguably daft – model.

The publisher has to front the money for everything you haven’t seen in order to make that book the best that it is: costs for editorial staff, marketing, adverts, shipping, office space, printing of copies (both final copies and galley versions for proofing which are also sent to reviewers), shipping to the distribution firm, as well as shipping to retailers centres plus then back again as all books are “returnable” if unsold. That last bit becomes a bit like “consignment sales” in a way, but it’s the way it’s been done for at least 80 years (which seems like 80 years too long to me, but… whatever). The publisher provides a fair bit of value to the entire mix. Both author and publisher deserve remuneration for their efforts, as do the distributors and retailers who ensure copies get into the hands of actual human beings who read. No one begrudges that, probably.

But – and here’s where the Big Publishers’ argument departs from reality – people do not know about all of those costs. The only thing the average person considers to be a part of the cost of the book they purchase is the following:

  • “royalty” for the author (because they wrote it)
  • “profit” for the store (because they’re a business)
  • “printing and shipping” of a physical item which the publisher probably pays for (because that’s what I’m reading)
  • “other stuff…” (don’t know what it is, don’t care; probably someone’s smoking cigars with plentiful hookers and equally plentiful ‘blow’)
     

That’s it. Nothing more, and it’s the Publishers’ own damned fault for people not knowing.

When I tell people I’m a publisher, they haven’t a clue what that means. Typically the next question is “so what kind of books do you write,” which means I then explain I’m not an author. “Oh,” they then say, “so you print them… in your basement?” No, I doubt any publisher has had their own press production since the start of the 1970s, frankly. Some specific company is contracted to do the job of printing, binding, and boxing them for shipping. “So… what do you do, then?”

Between the draughty garrett-​​located Author and the book in their hands, there’s this massive gap in the reader’s awareness of what Publishers actually do; other than rip off authors and charge $34.95 for a hardcover, and often only slightly less than that for the eBook.

Yet, when the average person screams at paying more than $14.99 for an eBook, the publishers defend themselves with “but we have costs to cover!” and wonder why anyone would scream about the price in the first place.

Here’s a secret, civilians: the printing and binding and shipping of your hardback probably isn’t more than $3. If it’s from a smaller publisher – Faber & Faber, or Coach House Press, say – it’ll be north of $4, but not by much. The smallest cost in publishing is the physical object you think of as a ‘book.’ Getting those words in that precise order with the author’s consent, on those spots on the page, using that spelling, with that cover, which you heard about through that review /​ newspaper ad /​ bookmark /​ billboard /​ flyer /​ newsletter /​ contest on Goodreads /​ in that window or table display, that’s the expensive part. The publisher pays for all of that, and won’t see a nickel in recompence until probably a year after the ‘official publishing date’ when the retailers finally are able to calculate the amount of inventory that they’ve taken delivery of which won’t be returned to the publisher unsold.

Again: this is something publishers do, and have always done, so it’s not offered up as “woe is me,” only “here’s what’s behind the offered defences from those who feel entitled.” They’re not actually being greedy, they really do need to pay oodles of people other than one editor, one author, and some guy running a Gestetner™ machine cranking out books downstairs near the furnace room. 

However…

Listen to the Market, Don’t Dictate to It

Yes, the idea of bundling an eBook with a printed copy of a book makes a lot of sense, because people read that way now. This is something that the Big Six doesn’t quite get. They’re – understandably – stuck in the mind set of “publish hardcover, wait six months and strip un-​​sold hardcover copies for pasting new outer wrapper on for Trade Paperback sales; wait six or eight months and release smaller Mass Market Paperback edition and sell to airports, druggists, and grocers.

If you were to propose the notion of selling two different editions of the same book, at the same time, at or near to the same price as only one of them, it would be a good way to watch the top of a CEO’s head explode. Yet, this is exactly what the customer says is of use to them, so it behooves the CEO (or their minions) to figure out a way to provide that in a fashion where the market can continue to afford to produce books people will buy. If they do not, then the invisible hand of the economy will move on and offer its money to someone else, and the Big Six will go the way of milkman: out of work due to people getting their supply from someone else.

People now read on their Kindle, their iPad, their iPhone, their tablets, their Kobos, their laptops, their multiple Android and Windows devices… as well as the printed editions. The genie is out of the box, and they’re either still trying to stuff it back in there or simply hope it goes away so they can get back to the old way of doing things.

It’s no wonder that people such as Publishers Weekly’s Alex Crowley are now asking “Why Are We Still Not Bundling E-​​books?” As Lee Rosevere pointed out above, for years now the music people have bundled MP3 or AAC files with purchases involving vinyl and sometimes even CD copies of albums. Logically, you want the consumer to enjoy the art of the music or stories and thus rave about it to others, so that you can then… all together now, folks… sell more copies of the album or book.

Then there’s a rapid increase in the adoption of this, witness the the news that “Morgan James to Launch E-​​book Bundling Program.” Last August, the people at Angry Robot started doing this and tripled their sales on the bundled titles. People have asked why it’s not being done yet as early as February of last year, although I haven’t bothered to look for any earlier than that. Certainly I had started thinking about it by the spring of 2010, and I hadn’t come up with it on my own, so someone must have been suggesting it by that point.

There’s more than a few things to sort out in the way of practicalities, not the least of which is how do you ensure only people who actually bough a printed copy get a set of the files? Morgan James has solved it this way:

The publisher will be partnering with BitLit, a Vancouver-​​based smartphone app company that enables readers to claim free or discounted eBook editions of print books purchased through traditional channels. With Morgan James, the customer redeems his or her free eBook alongside the purchase of a print book by using a smartphone to take and send photos of authenticating materials, much like digital deposit apps used by major banks. The customer will sign a page at the front of the book, take a photo of the autographed page, and then send both that photo and a photo of the cover to BitLit, who will then provide an eBook file in the customer’s preferred format.
Publisher’s Weekly

This seems a bit convoluted, and when the process was presented to a randomly selected eBook consumer the other day (no, it wasn’t me) the response was along the lines of “look, if you’re going to offer me something like that, you have to make it as easy as possible otherwise I’m not going to bother.” The suggestion then was – quite logically – that the same process as the “Digital Version” for movies on DVD or BLU-​​RAY discs could be followed, with some sort of sticker with a random number placed inside the book’s cover that the purchaser then enters into a box on the publisher’s web-​​site. How someone of Atomic Fez’s size would accomplish this wasn’t discussed (it probably involves Secure Socket encryption for a download link, among other things, otherwise how do you authenticate both the number and the fact it hasn’t been used previously, and WOO-​​DOGGY that sounds spendy), but that’s clearly the publisher’s problem: this is what the customer wants, it’s up to us to figure out how to accomplish the thing to make it work for both us as a business and for them as an end-​​user; just like it always is.

So…

Where Do We Go From Here?

Frankly, I’m not entirely sure how we do any of the above, as there’s multiple issues involving secure downloads, prevention of abuse of the system, possible effect of DRM making a complete dog’s breakfast of the whole thing, and – if DRM was found to be a non-​​starter in making this work – massive trust issues for the publishers despite the DRM–free nature of audio files when purchased from companies such as eMusic.com or from the Apple’s iTunes Store.

One thing I am certain of, however, is that this is what the customers seem to be leaning towards, and it’s the publishers’ job to figure out how to provide it across all platforms, in all the variant stores on these interwebs, and in a way that protects the financial investment they have made in bringing the authors’ words to the eyeballs of readers, as well as protecting copyrights while not harming the ease of people reading the aforementioned words. It’s not easy, but it cannot be impossible. 

One thing it also cannot be is anything like the approach the music industry took initially, or the one the film industry continues to take. That way leads to complication for the end-​​user and ultimately to failure of the business model. No one benefits there.

Something we have to ignore right from the start is geographic markets. They don’t exist anymore, people. Someone in Australia doesn’t understand about “UK Publishing Rights (with the exclusion of all Commonwealth Countries and/​or Territories),” they just want to read a copy of Bryant & May and the Invisible Code and “take my money, what’s so bloody difficult about that?” 

Additionally, the notion of an eBook release being different than the initial publishing date is simply daft. All markets should get the eBook edition at the same time as the first printed edition is available somewhere. If you need to shift Heaven and Earth to print copies on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in China and India, in order to match your hardcover’s initial arrival on shelves with the eBooks being released for the Kindle, Sony, Kobo, and Apple’s iBookstore, then do that. Scholastic, Bloomsbury, and Raincoast accomplished it for “Harry Potter,” so obviously it can be done.

If there’s a delay of a few weeks between the eBook coming out and the printed version, so what? It doesn’t seem to harm the music business, does it? People understand that it takes time to ship a box to their door, but they do not understand why it takes six months to get a file into their eReader; mostly because it’s not supposed to, and that’s how Amazon’s Kindle created the eBook market – pretty much from a blank piece of paper – in the first place.

Conclusion and Future-​​Gazing

Atomic Fez Publishing hereby publicly commits to bringing bundling of eBook editions of all of its titles when someone purchases printed copies of them.

Be assured that the entire Atomic Fez Publishing operation is slaving away all the hours of the day in headquarters [image below] to make this work for all people involved both in the creation and consumption of eclectic, genre-​​busting fiction!

As noted above, I haven’t a clue how this is going to happen – especially as there’s a brand-​​spanking-​​new distribution agreement with Midpoint Trade Books in NYC to factor into the practicality of the matter, never mind the distribution through the various high street and on-​​line stores – but it will.

For now, if you’ve bought a printed copy of a book published by Atomic Fez and want an electronic copy, head to THIS PAGE HERE and use the information provided to request one, along with some sort of basic information about where and how you purchased your copy. You’ll shortly get an eMail from me (really from me, yes, there’s no one else working in this one-​​man outfit) giving you a link to a page where you can download a *.ZIP file containing DRM–free ePUB, KMZ/​MOBI, and PDF files for your selected title, which can then be loaded onto your device of choice.

Moving forward, hopefully there’s going to be a simpler way to do this; as well as other people adopting it as well.

The basics of any business is “supply and demand” and you cannot tell the market that what we supply is what you demand, because you’ll hear about it right quick [c.f. “New Coke”].

One of the ways you can influence the demand is by showing the customer what they’re missing, using the aforementioned first taste is free method. “Try it and see how you like it” is always a good thing to boost potential sales, as often times people really don’t know if something works for them without actually giving it a go first. This is a new technology for many, and there’s still some confusion about what eBooks are and are not. Often times it’s easier to not bother explaining and simply shoving people in the direction of experimenting for themselves. Thus, bundling works for the uninitiated as well as for those who already are conversant with eBooks. It’s “all win” here, people!

NOW THEN: What do you think? Does this sort of “2-​​for-​​1″ bundling offer appeal to you based on the way you read now? Even if you don’t read eBooks now, might you see yourself doing so in the future, or even sooner if you were able to start using a “buy one get another really cheap” arrangement as a transitional thing? Do you think it’s a case of unnecessary consumption and people should choose one or the other formats, pay the going rate for that version, and support the publishers’ and authors’ efforts using the “one price, one binding” approach we’ve had throughout the previous 100 years? Or is some sort of middle ground what you think should be done?

Speak your mind in the comments. Gwaan!

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Footnotes

  1. Term used to refer to the six largest publishers in the United States: Random House, Penguin (USA), HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan. When their sales are combined, they represent something approaching either 90% of the market or 90% of the New York Times “Best Seller List,” or something equally insane. [ ↑ back ↑ ]
  2. Hush now; surely you know Douglas Adams wasn’t good at math? [ ↑ back ↑ ]
  3. Those of you recognising the phrase would be wise not to admit that. Let’s just move on and never speak of this again, shall we? [ ↑ back ↑ ]

2 thoughts on “WHEN? The Inevitable Reality of Multi-Binding Bundling

  1. As a self-​​confessed bibliophile and one who has been known to “spout off” on this topic, I say this to the “big six.”

    First: Release all formats of the book at the same time – Hardcover, Trade, Mass Market, and eBook.

    Now, before your heads explode, consider the consumer who wants a choice. A hardcover novel is a PREMIUM product, and I would expect (like) to get an eBook copy of the text of the hardcover I just spent premium money on. A trade paperback is the Everyman’s, mid-​​priced version of the book, and a mass market paperback will be the “economy” version of the book. The eBook remains on its own for those who prefer that sort of thing, or it could also be purchased (perhaps at a small discount) by those who have already purchased a trade or a paperback. I would EXPECT to pay MORE for a PREMIUM hardcover bundled with the eBook.

    By releasing all the editions at the same time, you are REDUCING the number of (expensive) hardcover books that either get returned or thrown into the remainder bin. And don’t go crying to me about “royalties being based on cover prices, etc., etc.,” WE ARE IN THE 21st CENTURY! LEARN HOW TO CHANGE YOUR THINKING.

    I am more than FED UP in waiting for a year for a mass market paperback to be published because I simply will not spend my hard cash on a premium hardcover book just so that I can read it as soon as it comes out. There ARE a few authors that I WILL go put and purchase hardcover books for, especially signed hardcover books, but that list is small.

    A prime example of this is Random House and the release of George R.R. Martin’s book, A Dance with Dragons. The series became very popular because of the HBO TV show, and THREE TIMES Random House delayed the publishing of the mass market paperback so that they could suckle a little longer on the teat of hardcover pricing. It vexed me so much that I went out and bought a USED hardcover copy of the book so that I could read it, and Random House will get ZERO DOLLARS from that sale from me!

    Second: eBooks MUST BE DRM FREE. I will not “purchase” content that is not DRM free. I currently have no use for eBooks because I have no control over how and where they can be consumed. Oh sure, I can strip the DRM with some bits of software, but that is technically ILLEGAL, akin to copying a DVD in the Magistrate’s eyes.

    Third: We need cheaper and faster (eInk) eReading devices. I’ve been saying this for some time and Kobo has apparently been listening, but the Kobo Mini is just too small and too slow for my tastes (sorry Kobo).

    Fourth: The “big six” need to step back and realize that the world has moved on. We no longer publish, wait 6 months, publish, wait 6 months and so on. Get on with it! We live in a society where immediacy means dollars! So stop neglecting the mass market paperback market as you have been for the last year or so, and step up to the new way of thinking.

  2. Herne, you are the sort of person for whom Atomic Fez specifically does things in the way we do.

    • All eBooks are DRM-​​free
    • All formats are released at the same time
    • We’re doing the bundling thing soon
       

    It’s possible the newest Kobo units are fast enough for your liking, as they’re certainly super fast compared to the earlier models. Have a look next time you’re near a display case.

    We welcome your custom.

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