An Old Take on eBook Windowing

Ever vigilant in his quest to dust off old ideas and pass them off as new, Joe Wikert has hit upon the idea that publishers could sell advance ebook copies of their works before the print edition is on the shelf:

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.

That is a great idea, I agree. In fact it’s such a great idea that Baen Books started doing it three years ago.

Baen Books has been selling ebooks direct to consumers since forever, including selling advance ebook copies at a steep markup ($15), and after they started distributing ebooks to other ebook retailers in 2012 Baen kept selling those advance copies.

In effect Baen has been doing exactly as Wikert suggested, only better. Baen is charging a premium for the early access to the content rather than selling at a discount like Wikert suggests. (Actually, Baen’s advance prices are about what the Big Five charge for regular retail, so depending on your view point this might not count as a premium price.)

So it works, great — but can Baen’s model be replicated?

O’Reilly, to name one example, sells advance ebook copies (at a discount, too), but I think they could be just as special of a case as Baen. Both publishers have spent a decade or more to cultivate a customer base which is used to buying direct, and they also sell DRM-free ebooks (less pain for customers).

Not every publisher has made that investment, or is willing to make the investment, and the same goes for dropping DRM.

Also, the larger publishers would have to be wary of pissing off the major retailers.

So do you think this idea could be adopted by more publishers?

image by maguay

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