A New Take on Ebook Windowing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

ebooks, sales, publisherEbook windowing is a technique designed to prevent ebooks from cannibalizing print book sales. The original thinking went something like this: release a new title in print format only, thereby preventing e-cannibalization.

The result? Frustrated consumers. If you’re an ebook reader, there’s nothing worse than realizing a digital edition doesn’t exist for that new book you recently discovered and were ready to buy. These days, it seems the lack of a digital edition isn’t the result of publisher windowing as much as publisher ebook indifference.

I think it’s time to reconsider the windowing model, but with a twist.

Rather than offering print without digital initially, why not offer that ebook exclusively on the publisher’s website? For the first 30 days, for example, the ebook is only available as a direct-to-consumer option from the publisher. Most ebooks 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 make it available for purchase as an ebook on their 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:

1. Making sure consumers are aware of the initial exclusively direct availability
2. 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.

The awareness obstacle starts with creation and careful management of a customer list. Email newsletters are critical and they must contain valuable information and insights, not just one promotional message after another. This isn’t just about emails and list management, though. A publisher needs to be committed to building community with their audience, giving them reasons to come to their site on a regular basis, etc. Many publishers have an allergic reaction to this approach; these publishers will never create a successful direct channel.

Raising and maintaining consumer awareness is hard enough, but changing consumer buying behavior has a much higher degree of difficulty. If you’re a Kindle reader and you’ve built a large e-library with Amazon, you need a compelling reason to buy your next ebook from somewhere else.

The direct sales model eliminates the retailer and enables the publisher to keep a larger chunk of the revenue. In many cases, this means the publisher nets 100 percent of the selling price vs. only about 50 percent when the ebook is sold through a retailer. So why not pass a portion of that difference along to consumers? A 40-percent-off deal during that initial direct-only stage might be a compelling enough reason for some of those Kindle loyalists to consider buying direct instead, especially if the Kindle price ends up being close to list.

I realize this strategy won’t put a dent in Amazon’s ebook dominance. But over time it can enable publishers to build a stronger direct-to-consumer business, the benefits of which include knowing who your customers are, being able to market directly to them and gathering analytics about their reading behavior.


This article first appeared on Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.


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2 thoughts on “A New Take on Ebook Windowing

  1. Mike Coville

    This is still based on outdated thinking. Publishers need to stop thinking of an ebook sale as a missed print book sale. If I purchase an ebook, I had no intention of ever buying the print version.

    And other thing. Jacking up your ebook price to try and entice me to purchase the print book only tells me how little you care about your customer and I skip your book, there are plenty of others to read. It also tends to turn me off from buying any of your books in the future. Publishers, and more importantly writers, need to treat their readers better than that.

    Reply
  2. Joe Wikert

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Mike. I’m not sure where you got the impression that I believe an ebook sale represents a missed print sale. It’s true that windowing was originally designed with that misguided thinking in mind but the alternate way I’m describing its use doesn’t assume an e-purchase is a missed opportunity to sell print. Also, I think you’re looking at my pricing model from the wrong direction. I’m not suggesting a publisher jack up the price. I’m just pointing out that during this exclusive e-direct period the publisher could offer a *discount* on the list price. Once that period is over the price reverts to the original level, not one higher than the publisher originally intended for general sale.

    Reply

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