Ever the cautious sort, Macmillan announced today that it had partnered with the Canadian startup BitLit to offer print/ebook bundles. Macmillan will be distributing 3,000 titles to the service, including works published by Tor-Forge Books as well as Farrar, Straus & Giroux and St. Martin’s Press.
Once again, Tor is playing the sacrificial lamb. As anyone with a long memory can tell you, in 2012 Tor was the first (and so far only) Macmillan imprint to go DRM-free. And then in June 2014 Tor was also the first Macmillan imprint to distribute titles to a subscription ebook service (Skoobe in Germany, to be exact).
Macmillan is joining around 330 other publishers, including HarperCollins, which signed with Bitlit in July 2014, in offering ebooks through a novel ex post facto ebook bundling platform. Unlike regular ebookstores, BitLit only sells ebooks to those who already own a paper copy.
Those ebooks can be purchased via BitLit's app for Android and iOS, but before they can buy one a customer must first prove they own the corresponding print edition (hence the term ex post facto) by using the BitLit app to take a photo of the personalized copyright page.
Bitlit then uses automated algorithms (backed up by Amazon's mechanical turk) to confirm the proof of ownership, after which the customer is directed to a page where they can purchase or download the ebook.
Since adding Wiley in January, BitLit has increased its catalog count by an additional 20,000 ebooks and now offers around 100,000 titles, including ten thousand from HarperCollins.
The terms vary between publishers; some offer their ebooks DRM-free, and some give the ebooks away, but others only allow BitLit to sell the ebooks (usually at a discount from the regular retail). HarperCollins, for example, handled the ebook sale through its own retail site during the pilot last year but later switched to letting BitLit process the transaction.
BitLit requires customers to jump through an awful lot of hoops just to buy an ebook, and I'm not convinced that this idea will succeed.
But, Macmillan is willing to give it a shot. BitLit is selling the Macmillan titles for $3 each, and the Tor ebooks will come sans-DRM.
I think BitLit's platform is too complicated, but it could be worth the hassle. Now that four of the Big 5 publishers have gone agency again, their high ebook prices have created an opportunity for customers to buy a cheap used paperback and pay to get an ebook at combined price which is less than the ebook's retail price
I'll need to check HarperCollins to see if their prices are worth it, but Macmillan titles will be. For example, I can buy a hardback of Larry Niven's Fleet of Worlds for $4. The BitLit ebook will cost $3, which still comes to a dollar less than the retail price in the Kindle Store.
I'm not sure I will go for this with very many titles (I'd rather borrow from the library) but it is nice to have the option.