There's been some discussion about bundling ebooks and print editions recently - because lots of us have been talking about it in connection with the Amazon/Waterstones deal.
Inevitably, this has led to a counter-discussion which wants hard evidence for bundling being a surefire winner. Philip Jones raises the issue in today's FutureBook email, and points to Evan Schnittman's 2010 blog post taking issue with the idea.
The contention - and it's not by any means without merit - is that consumers split on this issue: ebook buyers buy ebooks, paper book buyers buy paper. I'm not sure anyone has numbers for this any more than I have numbers for people wanting bundling, but it seems to lead to a lot of head-nodding when mentioned. Parenthetically: as an industry in a modern environment we do a surprisingly small amount of high-grain demographic research - or perhaps I just never get to see it. But consider the competition - supermarkets and tech firms do a lot of work and take great pains finding out who their customers are, how they live and what they want. Indeed, occasionally they go overboard in their efforts.
The thing about book bundling is that it's good whether or not the market is boiling over for it. Yes, really. Because:
1. Publishers selling direct can afford to price bundles aggressively because they're not paying a big rake-off to a retailer. They can sell the bundle at a price which competes excitingly with the single product from other sources. And they get...
i. new customers
ii. customer data
iii. a secure route to market which is not dependent on a retailer who may for example abruptly remove buy buttons
iv. positive publicity and the start of a strong relationship with people who buy books (vital in a world where DRM is the anti-filesharing equivalent of a papier mâché crash helmet)
And then there's:
2. Behavioural Economics. I bang on about this endlessly, and I do not pretend that I understand the nuances. However, remember the Economist pricing model from Dan Ariely's Predicatably Irrational? Online-only $65, print-only $125, print-and-online $125. What does everyone buy? Top slot. What happens if you take out the print-only subscription? Lots of people buy the online-only subscription. Right now we don't have the combined option, so we can't sell it, which means more people than necessary are buying ebook-only, which is cheaper, hence everyone's fretting about the 'race to the bottom' on book pricing...
The point is that bundles don't have to be a hot commodity to do any number of things which are probably good for the trade. They just have to exist and be wisely deployed to change the face of how people see pricing, for example. They only have to be a little bit appealing to get people to notice that a publisher has set up a direct-to-consumer sales system and explore it. And that's before you take into account that people often don't know what they want until someone offers it to them, or that the right price makes the bundle a no-brainer.
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