Angry Robot E-Book Bundling Plan Triples Its Print Sales at a UK Bookstore

FutureBook yesterday featured a piece on an experiment in the UK between Osprey publishing imprint Angry Robot and independent bookshop Mostly Books to bundle a free electronic edition of an Angry Robot novel with each print copy of it sold. (We’ve previously mentioned Angry Robot’s e-book store and e-book subscription plan.) After just two weeks, Osprey’s CEO revealed that the bundling initiative had tripled the publisher’s sales at that store, and plans are in the offing to expand it to other independent bookstores.

The article included opinion pieces written by Angry Robot’s sales manager Roland Briscoe and Mostly Books’s Mark Thornton about the lessons of the experiment. Briscoe talked about giving readers what they said they wanted—the permanence of a physical copy plus the convenience of an electronic edition. Thornton discussed being able to woo e-book fans back to the bookstore fold so they can enjoy the discoverability of seeing titles in person but still be able to read them on their favorite electronic platform.

The idea of print/e-book bundling has been around for some time—Baen even does it to a limited extent with some of its first-printing hardcovers that include bound-in CD-ROMs—but the way the market has worked so far in the US has prevented it from seeing much use. However, one of the stated goals of the settlement between the Department of Justice and the agency pricing publishers was to make possible this sort of experimentation in the US market—bundles of e-books sold together, or e-books sold together with their print version.

From a costs standpoint, bundling seems like an idea whose time has really come. It costs zero cents (or close enough to zero cents to be negligible. Maybe a few pennies in overhead costs?) in marginal costs to add an electronic copy to a printed copy—so if doing that sells more printed copies, isn’t it worth it?

Publishers have long had a problem getting over the mindset that every individual “copy” has to be paid for individually. (I remember, in the good old days when they were allowed to talk to people, the Pendergrasts of Fictionwise and eReader bemoaned the fact that publishers insisted that each different encrypted format of e-book sold in their store had to be sold separately.) And yet, given that Angry Robot’s experiment sold three times as many books as normal, that means they took in as much money as they would have if they’d gotten paid for the normal number of print books, that many e-books, plus the same amount extra.

Could bundling work for every book from every genre? Probably not. It will take more experimentation to know which ones will succeed. I hope that if the settlement paves the way, we might end up seeing more of that.

6 thoughts on “Angry Robot E-Book Bundling Plan Triples Its Print Sales at a UK Bookstore

  1. This approach makes so much sense it pains me that more aren’t undertaking it. Same principle as bundling a digital download with an LP; minimal added cost for a greatly enriched customer experience. Happy customers are loyal customers and advocates for your service.

    The future: where angry robots lead the way.

  2. WOW
    I’d love this
    I like the physical presence of a book on the shelf but i can’t read them (print too small, line spacing etc)

  3. Online sellers of pen-and-paper roleplaying games have been doing this for ages. Customers really like it. It’ll almost certainly come eventually for print and ebooks.

  4. The whole idea of bundling print and eBooks is exactly what (full disclosure: my company) BitLit (http://www.bitlit.ca) is working on. The main obstacle to widespread print+eBook bundling is that publishers want to be sure that the print and eBooks are going to the same person. Some publishers (e.g. Microsoft Press) include a scratch off code inside the back cover of all of their books. Once you buy the book, you can scratch off the code and use it on the Microsoft website to get the eBook edition. The problem with this method is that it increases printing costs and publishers don’t like increasing costs with an uncertain interest level. The other option is to do point of sale bundling (this is how Angry Robot did things in the UK). When somebody buys a print copy, they give their email address to the bookstore who give it to the publisher and the publisher sends you a free eBook. This works but is very manual and is more work for book stores without much in the way of reward (other than serving their customers well). That’s where BitLit can do bundling a bit better… we’ve developed a mobile app the lets you (the reader) prove that you own a print copy by using your smartphone’s camera. Once you’ve proven that you own the book BitLit can send the eBook directly to your eReader. With BitLit it doesn’t matter where you bought the print edition and there is no extra work for print book shops.

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