E-book windowing is a way to prevent e-books from cannibalizing print book sales. Just release your new titles first in print format only.
The result? Frustrated consumers. If you’re an e-book reader, nothing is worse than realizing a digital edition doesn’t exist for that new book you recently discovered and wanted to buy. These days it seems the lack of a digital edition isn’t the result of publisher windowing as much as publisher e-book indifference.
I think it’s time to reconsider the windowing model, but with a twist.
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.
The awareness obstacle starts with creation and careful management of a customer list. E-mail newsletters are critical and they must contain valuable information and insights, not just one promotional message after another. This isn’t just about e-mails and list management though. A publisher needs to be committed to building community with their audience, giving people reasons to come to its site on a regular basis, etc. Many publishers are allergic to this approach; these publishers will never create a successful direct channel.
Raising and maintaining consumer awareness is hard enough, but changing consumer buying behavior has a much higher degree of difficulty. If you’re a Kindle reader and you’ve built a large e-library with Amazon, you need a compelling reason to buy your next e-book from somewhere else.
The direct sales model eliminates the retailer and enables the publisher to keep a larger chunk of the revenue. In many cases this means the publisher nets 100 percent of the selling price vs. only about 50 percent when the e-book is sold through a retailer. So why not pass a portion of that difference along to consumers? A 40 percent-off deal during that initial direct-only stage might entice some of those Kindle loyalists to consider buying direct instead, especially if the Kindle price ends up being close to list.
I realize this strategy won’t put a dent in Amazon’s e-book dominance. But over time it can enable publishers to build a stronger direct-to-consumer business, the benefits of which include knowing who your customers are, being able to market directly to them and gathering analytics about their reading behavior.
What do you think?
Photo credit: Here.
Also of interest: Reverse Windowing: On publishing an eBook before print, a 2010 blog post by John Yunker promoting his novel The Tourist Trail.