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Penguin’s New Marketing Effort Will Bring eBook Excerpts to Amtrak Passengers

Here’s another reason why Rook’s location-based ebookstore idea has the odds stacked against it.

14833034986_74a4ef1457_bLate last week Penguin Random House announced that it had struck an exclusive deal to bring PRH titles to AmtrackConnect, Amtrak’s in-train entertainment platform. Soon Acela Express riders on the Boston to DC route will be able to read or listen to excerpts from PRH titles.

The program is launching with 20 titles, both fiction and non, including Gray Mountain by John Grisham, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and Believer by David Axelrod.

The program will only be serving up excerpts, but they will come from a variety of genres across all Penguin Random House’s adult imprints, and PRH plans to rotate the selection. (You can find a complete list of the first 20 titles on the PRH website.)

This story crossed my desk last Friday, but it didn’t strike me as all that interesting. I’ve heard of similar programs with Spanish, French,and German rail systems which let you read ebooks for free, so this one wasn’t very interesting.

But yesterday’s news about Rook changed my mind.

Rook is a new startup which is going to offer location-specific free ebook platform. It’s just beginning to get attention this week, and very little is known about it, but what we do know is that the startup has said that it will let users read premium ebooks for free so long as they are at a participating location (commuter route, coffee shop, etc). If you want to continue reading after you leave that location, you can buy the ebook from Rook.

When I covered Rook yesterday I expressed doubt that readers would want to commit to yet another app.

I thought that it would be better for Rook to direct readers to 3rd-party retailers rather than sell the ebook themselves, and now it seems Penguin Random House agrees with me.

The new PRH program mentioned above takes a slightly different approach from Rook. Both let you read for free, but Penguin is focused on excerpts, and not complete texts. (This will keep readers from finishing a book across several trips, which is one concern with the Rook platform.)

Bundled in with the excerpts, readers will find buy buttons which will enable them to purchase any of the available titles from a variety of retailers directly, while still on the train.

Rather than try to get you to buy an ebook directly, Penguin Random House is happy to hand you off to whichever retailer you like. Rook, on the other hand, wants to sell you the ebook itself.

These are two fundamentally different approaches. Which do you think readers will prefer?

I think that PRH is on the right track, but even if they’re not the publisher is still a major impediment. PRH has an exclusive on offering excerpts on the Acela route. They’ve locked Rook out of this niche just like the deal between HarperCollins and JetBlue locked Rook out of JetBlue’s aircraft.

So long as publishers are willing to plunk down marketing money for the choice opportunities, Rook is going to find the way forward rough. In short, the odds are stacked against it.

image by Ryan Stavely


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