Indie Bookstore eBook Dilemma

By Jason Boog Comment

changinghandslogo.jpgAs the publishing world debated delays in eBooks this week, another, no less important conversation sprang up on Twitter about the difficulty of bundling digital and print content for indie publishers.

To find out more, GalleyCat caught up with Brandon Stout (the “book-besotted PR and design guy” from Changing Hands Bookstore). His commentary was honest and compelling, and we’ve included most of his email interview here: “Our marketing department met one afternoon with the idea that we’d ‘figure out’ eBooks once and for all, including how to bundle them with hardcover purchases–even if it meant giving them away at cost,” explained Stout.

“The more we looked, the more we found that eBook pricing wasn’t just bloated, it was erratic. No clear patterns emerged. Worse still, from publisher to publisher and from book to book we had no reliable way of determining our cost, which of course makes selling eBooks at cost problematic. Very quickly the fantasy that eBooks would be the great equalizer, that they would allow us to compete with Amazon and B&N, vanished.”

He continued: “To make bundling viable at Changing Hands–to make e-books viable for indies at all, really–it’s not enough to sell them at cost. We’d have to sell at a significant loss. Jeff Bezos, as you know, is working to recalibrate public expectation to $9.99 for e-books, and Cory Doctorow and Chris Anderson are working to recalibrate that recalibration to free. Meanwhile, as independent booksellers wait for pricing to come down and DRM issues to shake out, Amazon tightens its grip on early tech adopters — readers who will be far less likely to abandon their Kindles when indies finally limp into the game.”

After jump, Stout offers some suggestions for the future.

Stout added: “My fantasy lately has been the notion of hardcovers as a kind of central hub. Buy the hardcover and get the digital version free, for starters, but also additional premium content. Maybe the audio version, access codes to exclusive online content, an iPhone goodie or two (see Nick Cave’s excellent The Death of Bunny Munro app). That sort of thing.”

He concluded: “Americhip’s interactive “video-in-print” technology has huge potential for bundling strategies, especially for children’s publishing. Up to two hours of video embedded inside the cover of a YA novel? With mini-USB connectivity to download more content? It’s mind-blowing. So yes, I think bundling is viable for certain books, but publishers are going to have to get creative. Right or wrong, it’s becoming difficult to justify the price of the average hardcover nowadays. A few digital bells and whistles may help take the edge off.”