Books as Souvenirs of the Digital Reading Experience: Another Case for Bundling

This was originally published in Digital Book World, October 8, 2012

By Rich Fahle, Founder and CEO and Bibliostar.TV

We live in a world of platforms. We carry our print books, we browse on our computers, we read on devices or tablets or even phones. We listen to books in the car, or on our power walks or subway platforms.

And for many of us, we mix all of the above, creating our own unique, multi-platform reading cocktail.

The idea of blending platforms isn’t new. The cable companies certainly understand the idea that their consumers are crossing over to participate in the viewing experience. ESPN now offers significantly more branded sports programming online on its ESPN3 online channel, and the “Watch ESPN” app now allows viewers to catch up on Sportscenter from their iPad if, that’s the way they want it. Similarly, HBO and Showtime and many other networks now make much of their programming available on their apps for iPad or other tablets. Missed the first season of Homeland? Watch it on demand on your television set, or on your Showtime app, if you prefer. If you’re a paying Showtime cable subscriber, these additional formats come as part of your paid monthly subscription.

Vinyl, of all things, has made a comeback of sorts among audiophiles, and a big reason is because most new vinyl records are distributed with an mp3 download bundled with the vinyl version. That allows for the intangible qualities of vinyl listening at home, together with the portability convenience that digital music so thankfully provides.

While the other entertainment channels are busy experimenting and opening the door to the cross platform possibilities, readers, on the other hand, are still waiting for publishers and retailers to come together to deliver books in bundled formats. In fairness, there have been conversations and limited testing of the idea. In a Publisher’s Weekly interview earlier this year, Bob Miller, Group Publisher at Workman, discussed his company’s bundling experiments with Hillary Jordan’s book, When She Woke. “I’m very interested in the idea of using digital formats to help sell physical formats,” Miller said. “And I think consumers don’t want to have to buy the same book multiple times, for multiple formats.”

That’s for sure.

Certainly there are some who will never cross platforms while reading a single book. For many of us, though—and I’d suggest that number will continue to expand as more digital natives enter the reading universe—the idea of being able to listen to a book in the car on the way home, then take the paperback to the pool, and travel and on the plane with an ebook is a very enticing proposition.

Will Schwalbe, in his new book, The End of Your Life Book Club, writes movingly about the power of books in any format and the book discussions he shared with his cancer-stricken mother in the days before her death. In our Bibliostar.TV interview to discuss his book, Schwalbe, a former Editor-in-Chief at Hyperion and Avon/Morrow when they were both part of the Hearst Corporation before that, discussed his thoughts about the enduring meaning of print books in a digital age. In Part 1 of my Bibliostar.TV interview with Will, he said,

One of the final images of the book was when [my mother] was dying, at home with home hospice. She was there on her bed, and over her towered this enormous, wonderful bookshelf, my dad and mom’s book shelf. And she was able to glance over, and there were the spines of so many books she loved. And these books had been her teachers and her guides, and that gave her enormous comfort.

And she had books on her bed table, too, and she was able to look at those. And she had a book by her side in bed, and she had a little pile near the bed of the books that she and I were going to read next. I sat there with her and I looked at her, and I looked at those books, and I just thought to myself, what kind of comfort will my e-reader bring me when I am in that situation?

In the video interview featured at the top of this article, Schwalbe argues that for many, the printed book can be “a souvenir” of the digital reading experience, a physical reminder of the book and its meaning to your life that many readers would appreciate, allowing for the physical connection that many digital readers still covet for many books.

There are those who argue that readers aren’t clamoring for bundled books yet. Of course, music lovers weren’t clamoring for an iPod either, and happily carted their CDs and tape collections with them until something entirely better and more convenient came along, allowing them to carry their entire music collection in their pocket. And yes, there will be continued concerns expressed about appropriate pricing models, about the technological requirements of bundling at retail sites, about the potential of devaluing one format or another.

As is becoming clearer by the day, this is the sound of old-school entrenched thinking, dulling the sense of innovation and slowing the continued of evolution of the reading experience for a world of readers where cross-platform delivery will increasingly be viewed as an expected customer service, not an added bonus.



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