A bundling experiment

At the beginning of July Osprey imprint Angry Robot launched a bundling experiment, Clonefiles, through the independent bookshop Mostly Books. The scheme offered the digital version of Angry Robot novels free to customers when they bought the physical paperback. Two weeks later Osprey chief executive Rebecca Smart told The Bookseller, that the initiative had trebled sales of the publisher’s titles at the trial store. The scheme has been supported in-store with a window display and signs explaining how it works. There is now an intention to roll it out in other independent bookshops.

Below are the thoughts of Roland Briscoe, sales manager at Angry Robot, and Mark Thornton, from Mostly Books, on what they learned.

The publisher's perspective …
We're lucky at Angry Robot that our parent company, Osprey Group, is very happy to let us experiment. Flux is the ocean on which the publishing industry sails at the moment and it's great to have the autonomy to create the right kind of boat, or at least the freedom to try different builds. Angry Robot Clonefiles was a scheme that arose from this mindset.

Bundling different product formats is nothing new and there are many examples of physical and digital media sold together to great effect. Past examples include collectors' editions of video games; lavish box sets complete with a plethora of physical accessories supplied with codes for downloadable content. Of course, video games do not require a physical component, because the core product is always consumed digitally. And these days more and more consumers are choosing to purchase and download their games from online vendors, by-passing the physical add-ons completely.

Books are different, having always enjoyed a dual status, both as a receptacle of knowledge (or a damn good story) and as desirable physical objects, particularly for those afflicted (or blessed) with a collectors' mind-set.  Brilliantly (in that it is inclusive) the degree of collectability varies widely from title to title and from person to person. One person's collectable classic that will be treasured on the bookshelf forever is another person's quick read and ‘forget' on the train.
The convenience of ebooks brings many benefits, but it also removes many that make paperbacks and hardbacks such an attractive package. Numerous people, for instance, love the ease of discovering new authors and genres that browsing physical books in a bricks and mortar shop provides. Browsing ebooks online just isn't as intuitive or pleasant an experience. Because of their beauty there is also a huge gift market in physical books, particularly hardbacks, again something that ebooks are unlikely to replicate.
We therefore believe (and I'm sure that we are only echoing the opinion of the majority here) that there is a place for both, and in actual fact having both formats is of benefit to everyone. So our bundling project, Clonefiles, is an attempt to give our readers what they tell us they want - the beautiful physical copy that they can give as a gift, swap with a friend or keep in their collection, together with the convenience of the digital file that they can read on the commute or family holiday.
We also believe that it's important for the cultural and creative future of our society that high street bookshops continue to thrive, and Clonefiles allows us to support this. The project is an attempt to offer a viable digital product and experience for bricks and mortar retailers.
The premise is simple. You buy an Angry Robot book, write down your email address at the till, and receive a free ebook edition of the book you bought, DRM free, by email. The experiment began with Mostly Books in Abingdon, an innovative and exciting independent bookseller close to our HQ.
Mark Thornton, owner of Mostly Books, has kindly compiled his thoughts (below) on the perspective from the shop floor and the public's actual reaction to the project so far.  
If you are interested in finding out more, contact me at roland.briscoe@angryrobotbooks.com.
Roland Briscoe



The retailer's perspective …
Like most independent bookshops, it seems at times that ebooks are a party to which we have not been invited. The speed of take-up of ereaders has left independent booksellers feeling bewildered and distressed, fighting (as we are) a perfect storm of recession, Internet, supermarkets and the viability of the High Street.
Anything that allows independent bookshops to take part in this fundamental change in how we read must be good - but most of what indies have been offered up until now amount to scraps off the digital table. That is why the Clonefiles initiative is so important - it plays to our strengths, allowing us to add value to what we already do so well.
First and foremost, it allows us to leapfrog the competition in the value stakes. By offering dual-format, we suddenly have a hugely attractive offering that changes the focus from price and 'paper v digital' (for which there will only ever be a single winner, no prizes for guessing who) to added value.
Suddenly indies are able to take their traditional strengths - edited and curated choice, personal service and recommends - and stick a 'plus digital' on the end. It is genuinely a game-changer.
But Clonefiles has been much more important than that. It has allowed us to engage with customers and break the 'ereader taboo' with people coming into the shop. At Mostly Books, we assume that everyone coming into our shop has an ereader.
Clonefiles allows us to start a conversation with them, and it is amazing how customer have responded. From a slightly-embarrassed "let's all pretend eReaders don't exist" awkwardness, customers have opened up to us about their eReading experience - and in the process are actually telling us what we need to offer to stay relevant - and survive.
On the first Saturday of the Clonefiles initiative, a family came in and we were able to start a discussion about ebooks. Between them as a family, they had a Kindle, an iPad and they also read on PC and iPhone. Having initially come in for a card, not only did the Dad buy an Angry Robot title (recommended by us after a chat about what he likes to read) they all spent time in the shop, signed up to our newsletter, bought children's books and other non-book items. From their perspective, we just made the shop relevant and exciting to them again - it was a great experience all round, and not unique.
We realise that this isn't a panacea - to some extent we were already doing well with the Angry Robot range (and in fact had recently expanded our SF and Fantasy section). It may not be for all independents. But the principle of dual-format should be something that all publishers and booksellers should embrace.
I would imagine that most booksellers have a similar profile to us, and the proof of an initiative like this will be over the longer term. But we have been delighted with the strong foundation Clonefiles provides - it's a simple fulfillment process, sales have jumped [http://www.thebookseller.com/news/e-bookprint-bundling-trebles-sales-angry-robot.html], and we have been able to deepen our engagement with a publisher that we are happy to hand-sell to other customers.
Looking ahead, one area we are very hopeful for will be sales from people who use us mostly for gift buying or buying for their children but who have switched to eReading for personal use. This is very important strategically because we assumed we had lost these customers.
Later this year, Angry Robot launches a Young Adult (www.strangechemistrybooks.com ) list, and we couldn't be more excited. YA is a big area for us, but anecdotally we know that teens are increasingly switching to eReaders - but only for some of their reading; they like to have choice. As we communicate our offering through the schools, our ability to offer dual format is going to mean we might become the coolest place in town to browse for books.
Mark Thornton




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