Bill Bryson urges e-book bundle tie-up

Bill Bryson urges e-book bundle tie-up

This, what seems like a very good idea, was on the BBC website yesterday.

Author Bill Bryson (I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his, unfortunately), is making a very interesting suggestion in the link above. If you can’t be bothered clicking up there, here’s the gist: His suggestion is that sales of ‘hard’ copies of books – hardbacks, paperbacks – could be in some way protected, even encouraged if an eBook version were in some way ‘bundled’ in with the purchase. He makes a point, one that I hadn’t even come within binocular-distance of, of feeling forced to choose, between a hard-copy and an e-version, when one is in the market for a new book. He seems to be saying that as he travels a lot and reads books (for the convenience of not having to pack an extra suitcase for books to take on the journey, I guess), he reads books on his e-reader. But, if I get his point, he prefers having the ‘hard copy’. But he can’t/doesn’t want to, buy the thing twice. So has to choose, before buying, based on ‘where am I most likely to read this one?’

The BBC article is crediting Bill Bryson with ‘urging’ the idea, but it seems as though Amazon got there first. As I read the piece, they (Amazon) are about to, or already do in the US, offer digital downloads. For their Kindle, presumably. For free, or for a reduced consideration (over buying it for your Kindle direct).

I read physical books at home, eBooks (or whatever else it is they’re called this week) on the bus, or when I’m bored at work (if you’re one of my bosses – you didn’t just see that. Still, as they’re all Danish, they probably wouldn’t understand it anyway, so I’ll be alright). Anyway, on Amazon (I think) you can download an MP3 of an album, if you have ordered the physical one. It may just be the vinyl copy (I have friends who still buy vinyl) but now it seems like Amazon may well be going to try giving away, or offering a discounted digital version, with hardback or paperback books you buy from them.

With DVDs I know often you get a link to be able to download a digital copy of the film you’ve bought. Saves having to jump through the hoops of trying to download and use a programme to copy it and remove the DRM (if you’re a film company, you didn’t just see that. I wouldn’t think of doing that with a film I have bought, paid for and consider I now own).

Still, getting a link – somehow – to be able to download a digital copy of the book you’ve just bought in hardback or paperback, sounds a very interesting idea. As I said, I hadn’t thought of it in the way Bill Bryson puts it, as being forced to choose between the digital and hard copy of a book, but I can certainly see where he’s coming from. Obviously, (companies like) Amazon could include a link to the digital copy in with the book’s packaging. From a bookshop, not sure. Maybe at the check-out, they’d give you a link, but it should only be able to be redeemed by someone who has actually bought the book, not just picked it up in the shop and looked inside to get the link. Though, someone on the till at a supermarket isn’t going to be in a position to spend a whole lot of time looking for a link to the book you just bought in with your bread and milk. Maybe, you make this deal something only specialist bookshops can offer? Though, if you’re in a specialist bookshop, you may not be interested in the digital version, which is why you’re in a specialist bookshop after all. Though some, Waterstones, do sell digital book readers as well as hard copies. Oh well, erm…solve that little conundrum, and you’ll be very popular. Maybe not with The Bookseller, but with me. And Bill Bryson, by the looks.

2 thoughts on “Bill Bryson urges e-book bundle tie-up

  1. Oh, pity the poor guy, forced to make a decision between a print and a digital version. Decisions are so hard. And there is the cost. Here he is wondering how he can afford to buy shoes for his kids this coming winter. Let us all weep for him.

    Then, after drying out eyes, we need to get realistic. More than a little greed lies behind these demands. These bundles aren’t going to always be two copies owned by the same person. Many will result in two readers conspiring to save money.

    I did the numbers for Amazon’s scheme, which still requires that a paper version be purchased and up to $2.95 be paid for the digital version. For a typical popular bestseller, it’d be trivial for two to pair up, one getting the digital version and one the print version. Amazon would even take care of the shipping.

    Reader A likes digital and Reader B likes print, but otherwise their taste in books is similar. Reader A buys the print version and gifts it to Reader B, so he never even sees it.. He then downloads the digital version and, a few weeks later, they settle up the costs. Each saves about 20% off Amazon’s already discounted prices.

    Amazon doesn’t care. They never do. This isn’t their book and they’ve made two sales rather than one (or none). But the author has lost income and the publisher has less money to cover the cost of publishing books. That cheapens the book marketplace.

    Like I said, more than a little greed lies behind these ‘please let me’ suggestions. Buying a hardback has never meant getting for free a more compact and easy to carry about mass market paperback. Why should buying a print version mean getting a more compact and easy to carry about digital version?

    You want two copies, buy two copies. It is that simple. And yes, it’s perfectly legitimate to sell a discounted digital version with the print version. But the amount it’s discounted should be up to the author and publisher. It shouldn’t be a dictate from Amazon.

    Amazon likes to dictate too much. That’s their biggest problem. And by squeezing writers and publishers to build skyscrapers in Seattle, they’re harming the very system that brings us the books we enjoy reading. Not every writer can manage self-publishing and book promotion. Publishers who can’t afford to take a chance on a new author means that, in a few years, there’ll be fewer such authors around and fewer good books.

    Much of this is being driven by greedy readers who are a little too eager to pay as little as possible. In the long run, you get what you’re willing to pay for.


    1. Thanks very much for your comment Michael.

      Yeah, you’re right. I suppose it is a bit of a first world problem. Bill B., really should have enough wedge by now to get a hardback at the same time as he gets a digital copy to read on his travels. Though, being well-off (at least in relation to me, for instance) doesn’t necessarily mean someone should stop thinking about wasting money. His mistake is, and it could be the reporter putting words into his mouth here as I can’t see a quote from Bill B., where he says ‘give away’, to expect to get something like a digital download of a book, for free. If he is prepared to pay for one or the other, why should he expect to not pay for one, when paying for the other? Perhaps Amazon should be able to give away the digital version, but as long as they pay the publisher for it.

      Re-reading the article, I think my understanding of where he’s coming from does dissipate somewhat when put under scrutiny. But a choice often does have to be made, doesn’t it? Where a choice is possible, of course. I’m (unfortunately) not well off enough to always be able to buy two of everything I want to read. So there do come times, when I have to decide on hard version or digital. Usually, towards the end of the month when my ‘pocket money’ has largely disappeared.

      Having said that above, I have downloaded my books from iBooks and to the Kindle app on my iPad/iPhone for reading on the bus in and out to work. Because that’s a convenient way of not dog-earing a paperback and saves the space in my bag that a hardback would take up. I have then bought (at the last count *goes away and counts*) 8 copies of the same book I have on my iPhone – because I thought I really need this one on my shelves in hardback – and many times I have read the book on iPhone, then bought the next in the series as a ‘physical’ copy. And so on. I seem to be using the digital copy as a ‘taster’.

      I thought Bill’s/Amazon’s idea was a good one on the surface, but the wife and I couldn’t see how to get it to work in reality. In bricks and mortar bookshops. Presuming there are some left in the near future. All the ways we mused on, were open to abuse. i.e., someone getting something without paying for it. Or, as you say, paying less than they should. And that’s where Amazon have really injured the book market. By offering books at ‘huge discounts’, if not free, they have caused people to think that books should cost what Amazon charge for them.

      While over in the UK this last summer, I bought three books in Topping & Co in Ely. I paid full, marked-up price for three hardbacks. Happy to do so. Came in at around £44.00. For that, from Amazon, and even paying Danish sales tax (25%), I could have got the lot, in hardback for around £30.00, delivered. Did I think that was a lot, for three books? Yes. Why? Because I could have got them from Amazon for about £14.00 less. Which did I think was the ‘proper’ price? That’s the question.

      I know what the majority of my friends and acquaintances will have thought. Why? Because Amazon have got us to think that £8.00 is the price for a hardback, not £16.00. If there wasn’t anything to compare £16.00 with, then £16.00 would what a book costs.

      Of course Amazon doesn’t care. They care about numbers not books. Though do I remember reading somewhere that they haven’t ever made a profit (?) – and yet are the world’s biggest bookseller and the source of all book-related evil, one wonders if they’re that bothered about numbers either. But I imagine they would say that at if this does sell more copies, or versions, at least the publisher and writer are getting something. As against nothing, if a person doesn’t buy any kind of the book, without there being offered a digital version as inducement as well.

      Two of the books I bought in Ely (I bought several elsewhere and picked up some I’d had shipped – from Amazon, from Abe and from Book Depository – to my UK address), were signed copies. I’ve since bought three from Goldsboro Books in London, who (also) specialise in signed first editions. The postage to Denmark isn’t far off the book’s price from Amazon! Happy to pay it, for signed, first edition, hardbacks. That’s the sort of incentive that works on me. Obviously on a lot of other people as well, given the relative success of Topping and Goldsboro. They are at least still in business, whereas a lot of bricks and mortar bookshops (including the one in the town where my mother and father live that I was looking forward to visiting) are not. But I keep coming back to how thinking of the way I interpreted the attitude of Metallica (though Lars Ulrich says it was primarily for artistic control) when file sharing blew up properly. I read their attitude as, quite rightly, ‘why shouldn’t we get paid and paid properly for something we’ve created (and helped pay for to be created)?’ A guilt trip. Lay a guilt trip on people thinking they might be able to get something an artist has created, for nothing. ‘You wouldn’t work for nothing, why should we?’ ‘Just because we’re well off (compared to you), why should we give something to you for nothing?’ ‘You don’t go giving away a significant part of your income to Africans, because you’re better off than them, do you’ Would be my attitude.

      I don’t know the answer. If there really needs to be one. Look at the amount of vinyl that is now being sold, years after the invention and acceptance of the MP3. It’s still there and seemingly still thriving. I saw a piece the other day, that was debunking the ‘Amazon effect’ on bricks and mortar bookshops (unfortunately, I can’t find the link). There is still a market out there. It might not be as big as people would like, but it’s still there. I feel that as long as we encourage people to read books, whether they be on their iPhone, iPad, Kindle or whatever, the market will be with us in one form or another.


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