dvd.jpegPublishers are thinking about different ways to encourage consumers to equate ebooks with value and value with a higher (relatively speaking) price. The questions ideas like the Vook (a blend of a book with a video) raise are numerous, but in the end all boil down to this: Are consumers willing to pay a premium price for an ebook with “extras”?

Publishers look at DVDs as a model but fail to look further than the initial DVD release. (What are they thinking now that DVD sales are tumbling?) Perhaps the lesson to be taken from DVDs is not the value of “extras” but the constantly declining price. DVDs often start at a suggested price of $21 but a real-world selling price of $14, rise temporarily to $18, then begin a steady, dramatic decline to prices as low as $5, and sometimes lower.

The one thing not answered in the DVD example is the question: Do the “extras” influence consumers buying of the DVD at any point in the sales cycle? How many consumer sales are made because of the presence (or absence) of the extras? I wonder because I own several hundred DVDs and not once was my decision to buy influenced by the presence or absence of extras. In addition, I checked out the extras on fewer than 5 DVDs. What influenced my decision to buy was, first, my interest in the film, and second, the price: The lower the price, the more likely I was to buy; however, I admit to having stopped buying DVDs when the format wars started and haven’t resumed buying.Am I willing to pay a premium for ebooks with “extras”? I have given that a lot of thought, and my honest answer is very rarely — never in the case of fiction and occasionally in the case of nonfiction ebooks. If I were buying a book that had complex directions on how to repair something, I might be glad for a companion video; however, I’d probably be a lot happier with better and more detailed instructions and illustrations. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to pay even a nickel more for an interview with the book’s author. If the book’s author can’t convey his or her message within the book’s text, then the author has failed and an interview to clarify the text means I shouldn’t have bought the book to begin with. Similarly, I wouldn’t be willing to pay a premium for a travelogue showing the locales of the novel, or for a movie trailer, or for someone’s literary analysis.

The fundamental problem with “extras” is that they are afterthoughts. They should not be necessary to the book, certainly in the case of fiction. If they are necessary to the novel, then the novel itself isn’t worth buying. When extras are needed to explain the book, it signals poor authorship. (Extras can, however, add value to select nonfiction.) I have tried to think of what extra that would accompany a novel that would be so compelling that I would pay a premium for it. I haven’t yet come up with one.

If a novelist knows how to tell a story and is good at it, then the novelist will paint with words everything I need to see to understand the book. A good novelist doesn’t need a video to convey the bright lights and dark alleys of Broadway at midnight; a good novelist describes a character’s appearance so well that the reader knows what the character looks like. Isn’t that what distinguishes the written word from the picture (moving or static) – the ability to self-imagine. Of what value is a novel that thwarts the reader’s imagination?

Is there any reader of the Lord of the Rings who doesn’t “see” Gandalf based on Tolkien’s description? Do readers need to see Peter Jackson’s vision of Gandalf to know what Gandalf looks like? I suspect that every young reader knew what Rowling’s Harry Potter looked like long before the first movie came out. Are publishers really saying that the novels they publish are so badly authored and edited that the only way to justify a their price for the ebook is to provide extras?

I can see a travel book using extras to help the traveler find a restaurant or know precisely which bolt in the Eiffel Tower Emile Zola touched. I suppose that in a fiction book there could be added information about the time or the locale of the story, but how many readers either care or would make use of the extra? More importantly, how many readers would view the extras as sufficiently valuable that they would willingly pay a premium for them? Yes, there will be some readers, but I suspect the vast majority are unwilling to pay a nickel more for extras, which means publishers are adding to their production costs but still not surmounting price issue.

So, how do publishers add value to an ebook that might warrant charging the type of prices that consumers are currently rebelling against? I guess I’m back to my original suggestion: improve quality. A poorly edited ebook, an ebook rife with typographical errors, an ebook with unreadable illustrations — basically a poor quality ebook — cannot command the kind of pricing that publishers are trying to push, with or without extras.

Readers buy a book to read and enjoy for the written words. That’s probably why they are called readers.


  1. I think it will work, depending on the extras. I recently contemplated re-buying a dvd set I already own because a 10th anniversary edition came out with numerous extras my version did not have, including commentary tracks and cast interviews. Now, if the ‘extras’ are just dumb stuff like a book club guide or something, I would not pay extra. But *good* extras and I would.

  2. @ficbot: I don’t know how many DVDs you own but here’s the question: If every one of those DVDs came at 2 price levels, say $10 without any extras and $20 with extras, what number of those DVDs would you have bought at each price level?

    There is no doubt that 1 book here, 1 book there (or DVD) would be worth paying a premium for extras, but of the 50,000+ fiction books published in the U.S. every year, how many would be worth the premium? The question that has to be addressed is whether or not adding extras should be the universal approach as a way to keep ebook prices high.

    Also, it is hard to know before purchase whether the extras are *good* or not. I, for one, would not be willing to take that risk on every book.

  3. The obsessive fans would pay for the extras.

    Disney keeps putting out new versions of the each of the HIGH SCHOOL MOVIE franchise with extra scenes or songs, and the fans have to own each new DVD.

    The TWILIGHT book franchise would probably be successful in the same way if they included extra material.

    For most books, though, extra material wouldn’t add too much extra value although lots of authors include deleted scenes, etc. to their websites for their fans.

  4. I think the concept of extras for ebooks gets a little… tricky. Lets remember that for DVDs, the extras are generally a small fraction of the cost of the movie… indeed, the DVD as a whole generally only represents a tiny fraction of the cost of a movie. If you spend 100 million or more to make a movie, what is a few million more for adding deleted scenes, commentary tracks, even an alternate cut of the movie to a DVD that might sell in the millions.

    For books on the other hand, the extras might likely cost nearly as much as the actual production cost of the book itself (not counting royalties paid to the author after the fact). To be worth while, the extras would have to add enough extra that it would convince people to spend significantly more for the book.. or at least for many more people to buy it.

    I am not sure what they could add that would make it worth while. Ultimately, I think publishers and authors are going to have to realize that the current business model is drawing to a close. Their best bet is figuring out how to make $10 books work.



  5. ‘Extras’ on ebook editions of novels would, most simply, consist of the same extras found on deluxe print editions. They can’t have leather binding or silk ribbons to mark your place, of course, but they can have more interesting layout (certainly with PDF ebooks) and illustrations.

    One notion might be that DRM-free ebooks might sell for a premium. If not entirely DRM-free, then you might pay for a ‘right to read in perpetuity’ extra feature. Under such a scheme, the publisher would let you download future e-editions of the same novel for whatever devices come down the road. So if Amazon or Sony decided to get out of the ebook game, your higher-priced license would let you get a free version to run on the Dell ebook device, or the Blio platform, or the Nook.

    One ‘extra’ included on some DVDs is a discount to a movie ticket to the sequel. Something like this would be possible for a series entry novel, or even for a book from a popular writer such as Stephen King. The ‘extra value’ higher-priced edition might include a discount on Mr King’s next novel, along with the privilege to buy the ebook a week ahead of the rest of us.

    Similar gimmicks might include premium membership in an author’s website club, with exclusive notes and updates on how the WIP is coming along.

    Movies can always give you higher-definition versions of their product. Novels, based on plain text, really are at a disadvantage in this regard.

    I wonder if something like the ‘deleted scenes’ could be offered among a novel’s extras? Recently we were treated to the opportunity to download images of all the pages of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the one with Scrooge that is the only one anybody reads now) original manuscript with the corrections intact — really quite interesting.

  6. DVD extras are generally made up of leftover, unused content and promotional materials… not exactly the kind of stuff that is left over when writing a book. It’s already bought and paid for, so you might as well add them to the DVD and get a few dollars more from it if you can.

    I could see character notes and notes on major script redirections to be interesting extras, but they would essentially be an extension of an author’s “Afterword.” “Deleted scenes” might be interesting, depending on how the author works (some of us only delete a sentence or two here and there… hardly enough to be considered a “scene”).

    But to answer the original question, I buy DVDs for the movie. I also like the extras, and check out most of them except most running commentaries). I’ll pay more for a movie if it is a “director’s cut” (and I expect it to be better than the theatrical release), but I’ve never bought a more expensive version of a DVD based on the extras.

    Based on that, I wouldn’t buy an e-book at a higher price based on the “extras,” unless I fully expected those extras were somehow going to improve the enjoyment of the story itself. So the industry should be careful about what they consider worthwhile “extras” in e-books.

  7. Good point, Rich. At the other end of the spectrum you have the ‘extras overload’ scenario—my dad at one point had a version of the Alien movies with several HUNDRED hours of extras—who has the time? And I borrowed a dvd of Back to the Future where all the extra content was embedded into commentary tracks so that by the time you saw it all, you’d sat through the movie about 7 times and never wanted to see Michael J. Fix again…

    The best dvd extra I have seen was Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible which was a musical, and they did the commentary track as a musical too with songs like ‘I’m Better than Neil’ and ‘Nobody is Asian in the Movies.’ How such a thing would translate to books, I don’t know.

  8. Extras, huh?

    How about a useable table of contents, or an accurate list of figures and tables? An index would be nice, even a computer generated one. Unix has had the ability to generate a mediocre index of a text file with one command for years (decades?). How about a concordance? That would be in the deluxe edition, I suppose. Wikipedia lists:

    Title page
    Copyright page
    copyright owner/date
    cataloguing details
    Table of contents
    List of figures
    List of tables

    Yeah, those “extras” would do for a start. Heck, how about making them part of the metadata? Oh, yeah, some actual metadata would be nice too, wouldn’t it?

    Come talk to me about “extras”, Mr. Publisher when you’ve competently done your basic job. Until then, let’s see if you can manage to not trip over your bookmark.

    Jack Tingle

  9. If you want to compare to video, you should be comparing to online video, not physical media. How are video downloads (and streaming handled)? Who’s marketing them, how are they sold, who’s buying, etc.

    The DVD in your example is the equivalent of the paper book, not the ebook.

    That said, the one single “extra” I think that would be a good idea, is that for books that have maps, include a high resolution (and possibly printable) version of it. Sometimes there’s schematics and other things that would also work quite well in a high resolution format. These will obviously not display that well on a 6″ or smaller screen, but is definitely something the buyer can appreciate on a computer.

  10. “The fundamental problem with ‘extras’ is that they are afterthoughts. They should not be necessary to the book, certainly in the case of fiction. If they are necessary to the novel, then the novel itself isn’t worth buying.”

    Norton doesn’t think so. 🙂

    Extras have a long history of being used in reprints of public domain books. Why should a reader buy a classic book that has been published a zillion times before? Maybe because of the extras.

    I think that, as with the DVD example, this sort of thing works best with second-time buyers – people who have already read/seen the work before and want a bit more information about it. Extras have never influenced me to watch a DVD for the first time . . . but if I saw the movie in a theater, I might become interested in how it was made and want to see the “Making of the Movie” feature on the DVD – or, as Pond points out above, deleted scenes.

    Either of these features would work with a novel. I remember that I first fell in love with Isaac Asimov’s short story anthologies when I was a teen, not simply because of the stories, but because, in these anthologies of reprinted stories, he provided the “extra” of chatty introductions describing how each story came to be written. And I’ve seen authors offer deleted scenes to their readers. If the fans are enthusiastic enough about the original story, they’ll gobble them up.

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