I recently started re-reading one of my favorite books of all time: “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping“. It was my bible when I worked for Borders, and even on the consumer side of retail, I find it fascinating. The author, Paco Underhill, runs a company that studies how people shop. Everything from how much time people need to acclimate to entering a store to sightlines, signage, and spacing of aisles is scrutinized and tweaked for maximum impact based on Underhill’s team’s observations and suggestions. In this newer, updated version, he also touches on the internet and e-commerce.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, he’s not a big fan of the internet. When your whole career is built around the tactile aspects of shopping, I can see where e-commerce is very alien. But he does have this to say about online shopping that I think is very prescient with respect to ebooks:
“So when the dot-com bubble blew up in early 2001, I wasn’t happy, but to be honest I did feel a little bit vindicated. At the same time, I wasn’t surprised when the phoenix that is the World Wide Web 2.0 rose up out of its cinders. But there’s a seminal issue that hasn’t changed since the web came along in the early 90’s: Internet shopping has grown in places not because it’s all that good, but because the things it’s replacing or trying to improve upon have gotten that much lousier, clunkier, more expensive and/or inefficient.”
What does this have to do with ebooks? Well, for starters, even if you aren’t a huge fan of eInk or ebook readers, you have to admit they are that much easier than carrying stacks of books, and that much cheaper than buying physical goods. And as ebooks begin to triumph, we see new ways they may evolve, too, from bridging to print media to new forms of ebooks. It seems like every day brings new ebook news, so what has this week brought us?
Barnes and Noble is working to find a way to bridge their paper book and ebook business. Publishers Weekly is reporting that B&N will be running a pilot program that offers a discounted ebook version if you purchase the paper edition of a book. On the one hand, it’s kind of an odd promotion; who wants two copies of a book? On the other hand, it does solve one issue that is unique to ebooks over other digital media; the lack of a physical counterpart. When you buy a CD or DVD, you have the hard copy if something happens to your digital versions. Even if you buy the digital versions, you can burn them to physical media. Short of buying a ton of printer ink, or spending a great deal of time in front of a scanner, it’s not as easy to move between medias for books. If they price the bundles correctly, this could be a very cool option. And of course, there’s the ability to share the book by giving out the physical version and reading the ebook!
The conspiracy theorist in me is wondering if that’s why certain ebooks have been creeping up in price at B&N…so the discounted “bundle” price looks attractive. I’m sure it’s just me being paranoid, but wouldn’t that be a creepy bit of corporate brilliance and greed?
The big story around the iPad is the concept of “enhanced” ebooks. I’m still not sure how an enhanced ebook is going to work for every book out there, but Penguin has some ideas on what that might look like. They demo’d what some of their ebooks will look like on the iPad at the Financial Times Digital Media and Broadcasting conference, and admittedly the books look pretty cool. Apparently, this format isn’t supported by anything, even iBooks, so Penguin will be selling them as “apps”. Makes sense, even if it is incredibly frustrating that we’re getting yet another gateway to books on a mobile device. Check out the above video! And how soon do you think Penguin and the other publishers will make these available for Android?
Finally, it looks like a company called Gigabyte is planning an eInk Android tablet. The major plus here is that no matter how laggy your android phone might feel, at least it isn’t laggy AND dealing with the eInk refresh rates! Check out a video demo from CeBIT:
One last quote, because while Paco Underhill is primarily down on the digital world, even he sees it as an inevitable point. Seth Godin, marketing guru, and author, said this on his blog a few weeks ago, and I’ve been waiting for a fitting time to share it:
Who will save book publishing?
What will save the newspapers?
What means ‘save’?
If by save you mean, “what will keep things just as they are?” then the answer is nothing will. It’s over.
If by save you mean, “who will keep the jobs of the pressmen and the delivery guys and the squadrons of accountants and box makers and transshippers and bookstore buyers and assistant editors and coffee boys,” then the answer is still nothing will. Not the Kindle, not the iPad, not an act of Congress.
We need to get past this idea of saving, because the status quo is leaving the building, and quickly. Not just in print of course, but in your industry too.
That should be posted on every publishing executive’s wall. Even if ebooks aren’t the end, but just a step along the way, the world is changing, and no amount of whining, or propaganda pieces about pricing, will bring it back the way it was!