Where I buy a print book often comes down to convenience (which store is closest), pricing, availability (is the book in stock?) and loyalty programs (e.g., member discounts). The choice of a brick-and-mortar vs. an online store adds in the component of urgency; do you need the book today or can it wait till tomorrow?
I'm buying ebooks almost exclusively now. In fact, I can't even recall the last print book I bought for myself. Although I ditched my Kindle on day one with my iPad, I do most of my book reading in the Kindle app on the iPad. Although Amazon has a major selection advantage of the iBookstore, Apple will catch up at some point. Then there's B&N and Borders. Both of them have iPad apps and ebook stores. And don't forget about Google and their upcoming Editions program as well a host of other up-and-coming e-tailers.
So here's the question: With all these ebook retailers just a click away from each other, what must they do to earn your business on a repeat basis? This is a critical question for all the e-tailers looking for loyal customers. I've come up with a list of some of the items that affect my buying habits:
Reader Features — I’m referring to the bells and whistles the vendor builds into their ereader apps. Today they’re all about the same but I believe this will be a critical point of distinction in the years ahead. Integration of social networks (easily sending excerpts to your friends, tweeting them, etc.) is just a simple example. I’m willing to bet the features we’ll see in ereader apps in a year or two will make today’s apps look pretty basic.
Sharable Content — B&N took the first steps of this for the Nook but that’s not going to cut it long term. Customers need to be able to share their purchases with all their friends, one by one, of course, just like they can with a print book. Which leads to…
Eliminating DRM — Which major ebook retailer will be the first to feature nothing but DRM-free books? We sell a lot of ebook bundles on oreilly.com and I believe one of the reasons why is because we’ve totally eliminated DRM from the transaction. We trust our customers to do the right thing and they reward us by coming back and buying more. This is a tough one though as it’s the publishers who need to be convinced DRM is bad, not so much the retailers. I was pleased to see that one of the larger, old-school publishers who was a huge advocate of DRM at our 2009 TOC conference became a convert by the time they attended our 2010 TOC show. I figure if they can make the change, anyone can!
Price — It’s the obvious way of winning customers, but is it a legitimate, significant long-term advantage? Probably not. I compare the top e-tailers before I buy books for my iPad and I rarely find a price difference. On top of that, I’d be willing to pay more for each book if the more expensive option offers me some of the other advantages I’ve listed in this post.
Loyalty Programs — Here’s one we really haven’t seen tapped into yet. When will I be able to take advantage of a “buy-2-get-1-free” ebook campaign? We’ve done some experimentation like this on oreilly.com and it works. What’s nice about this model is that the e-tailer has easy access to your account, so you could accumulate buyer points, buy 1 book now and come back a week or two later to buy the 2nd book that gets you the 3rd one free. Good luck trying that at your local brick-and-mortar store. If I know that I’m one book away from getting a free one I’m much more likely to go back to that same store for my next purchase.
Non-book Content — Up to now all I’ve been talking about is books. What about magazines and newspapers though? When I bought my Kindle v1 I thought it would be a way to always have my newspapers and magazines on the road. Unfortunately for Amazon, the user experience for newspapers and magazines was awful, so I quickly dropped my subscriptions. Although most of these publishers are trying to go direct to customers (e.g., iPad apps), there will also be subscriptions through larger e-tailers. Part of this has to do with discovery, which is why print magazines/newspapers are still at your local convenience store. How could e-tailers leverage these products to make their site/reader the most compelling one available?
Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. What have I missed? What products and services can an e-tailer offer to earn your repeat business? Or, with all these stores just a click away, are we less likely to remain loyal to only one or two of them?