Skip to main content

An Old Take on eBook Windowing

17226857438_9f05c0b705_hEver vigilant in his quest to dust off old ideas and pass them off as new, Joe Wikert has hit upon the idea that publishers could sell advance ebook copies of their works before the print edition is on the shelf:

Rather than offering print without digital initially, why not offer that e-book exclusively on the publisher’s website? For the first 30 days, for example, the e-book is only available as a direct-to-consumer option from the publisher. Most e-books are ready for download before the print book anyway, so this is a new way of taking advantage of the print manufacturing and distribution delays. When the final version is ready to send to the printer, the publisher can start selling it as an e-book on its site. The e-exclusivity period expires when the book is off the press and in stores a few weeks later.

Two of the big challenges with this approach are:

  • Making sure consumers are aware of the initial exclusively direct availability
  • Getting consumers to change their buying behavior

Neither of these is easily overcome, but both are critical for a successful direct-to-consumer strategy. They also require a long-term commitment, so don’t expect game-changing results initially.

That is a great idea, I agree. In fact it’s such a great idea that Baen Books started doing it three years ago.

Baen Books has been selling ebooks direct to consumers since forever, including selling advance ebook copies at a steep markup ($15), and after they started distributing ebooks to other ebook retailers in 2012 Baen kept selling those advance copies.

In effect Baen has been doing exactly as Wikert suggested, only better. Baen is charging a premium for the early access to the content rather than selling at a discount like Wikert suggests. (Actually, Baen’s advance prices are about what the Big Five charge for regular retail, so depending on your view point this might not count as a premium price.)

So it works, great – but can Baen’s model be replicated?

O’Reilly, to name one example, sells advance ebook copies (at a discount, too), but I think they could be just as special of a case as Baen. Both publishers have spent a decade or more to cultivate a customer base which is used to buying direct, and they also sell DRM-free ebooks (less pain for customers).

Not every publisher has made that investment, or is willing to make the investment, and the same goes for dropping DRM.

Also, the larger publishers would have to be wary of pissing off the major retailers.

So do you think this idea could be adopted by more publishers?

image by maguay


Similar Articles


David Rothman March 20, 2016 um 10:34 pm

@Nate: Actually the basic idea goes back to 2010 and probably before that. Shortly after I published Joe’s column on the TeleRead site, I added the pointer below—which might or might not predate even Baen’s efforts (not quite the same thing as what Joe had in mind anyway!).

That said, maybe we should worry a lot less about who was first with what idea and a lot more about turning around the e-hostile pricing and release date policies of the B5. In this regard, Joe has done a world of good. From a consumer perspective, that is the real story here.

Sure, Joe’s proposal might PO some large retailers if the big boys tried it out, but he has offered some powerful arguments, not the least of which is that this would not end but at least reduce publishers' dependence on Amazon. Along the way, they would enjoy more marketing info from direct sales to consumers. That’s a holy cause. Amazon is nice to consumers now but may not always be so in the future, especially if the rumors are right about Amazon working behind the scene on behalf of agency pricing.



Joe’s column as we published it (for latecomers):

Nate Hoffelder March 20, 2016 um 11:01 pm

Bane was selling advance digital copies a decade ago. I know, because I bought them.

And it does matter who was first because you can’t call something a "new" take without discussing the old takes and explaining how the new differs. A new take can build on the old, but you first have to know what you’re talking about.

tarwin March 20, 2016 um 11:40 pm

Actually, Baen doesand doesn¡t sell their books at a premium. From experience most of the books that are sold before their release can also be purchased in their bundles, which are avilable at a great price (they cost 18 dollars and the June bundle is 6 books while the May bundle is actually 9 books).
But yes, when you buy a book individually they charge full retail price.
I love Baen books but I don’t actually buy from them all that much because normally by the time I am looking for a book they no longer sell it (I think that after X amount of time they no longer have them).

Chris Meadows March 21, 2016 um 5:02 am

Nate’s talking about EARCs, which are advance advance copies of the e-book sold at $15 each.

tarwin March 21, 2016 um 5:21 pm

Well, they ARE advance copies, kind of… Some of the books in the bundles are also eARC’s available in their store though it works slightly different. This is how they describe it:
Here’s how the Monthly Baen Bundle program works: With this program, you can start reading upcoming releases prior to their publication. We release three segments of each new novel, one month apart, beginning three months before the publication date. Check back on the 15th of every month for updated ebook files until the actual publication month. Log back in after noon EST on the first Tuesday of the publication month to receive the final updated Ebook. The timing works as follows:

Four months before publication, we list new Ebooks as Forthcoming; these Ebooks are not yet available for download. Ebooks we’ve previously released are, of course, available for download in all seven DRM-free formats.
Three months before publication, you gain access to the first Half of the new Ebooks in HTML format only.
Two months before publication, you gain access to the first Three Quarters of the new Ebooks in HTML format only.
On the publication date, you receive full access and can download the entire bundle in all seven DRM-free formats.

Write a Comment