On Publishing Perspectives, John Konczal of IBM’s Sterling Commerce takes a look at some of the ways e-textbook providers are experimenting with diversifying or enhancing their e-book offerings, and suggests some of these methods could be applied to traditional publishing.

One such thing is renting e-books for set periods of time at lower prices—a student might have access to the textbook during his semester, then have that access revoked afterward. He wouldn’t be able to resell the book after classes end, but wouldn’t have to pay full price at the beginning of it either.

Another is offering bundles of supplemental materials along with the textbook, such as study guides. In some cases, they offer customizable packages so that students or professors can best fulfill individual needs.

Konczal suggests that traditional publishers can stand to learn from these techniques:

Many of the same business models implemented by the textbook industry can be applied to other aspects of the publishing industry. For example, in selling the latest John Grisham book, a publisher could also offer multiple additional products, delivered physically or digitally and priced a la carte or bundled, such as exclusive author notes, book group guides, an excerpt from a Grisham work in progress, or the opportunity to participate in a video chat with the author. Bundling digital materials with the core book is a value-added package for the customer. To take it a step further, publishers might allow consumers to create their own bundles.

He suggests a number of ways publishers could do this, through flexible pricing and customizable bundled offerings.

I have mixed feelings about this. E-book “rentals” could work for textbooks, but I’m not sure how well it would fit the mass market fiction model. If publishers were to decide they wanted to go that route, it could well lead to ceasing to allow libraries to “check out” e-books altogether since that would compete directly with a rental business model. On the other hand, I can’t say that I’d be unwilling to kick in a buck or two to “rent” an e-book I couldn’t get from the library and didn’t feel inclined toward owning.

Bundled offerings could be rather cool, as long as the option to purchase the original unadorned e-book remained intact. In the best possible world, this would allow the price for just the e-book to drop—but given what I’ve seen of publishers so far, I doubt that’s the world we live in.

In fact, I’m not sure just how willing or able publishers are going to be to make this kind of change in the first place. All the same, it’s good to see people tossing these ideas out there. The more they do, the more likely publishers are to take up some of them.


  1. I read mostly fiction, and I have absolutely no interest in any of these extras. What I want is a good story, well-told, and to not be charged outrageous prices for it. I might look into book rentals, if it could be for a dollar or so, but certainly not more than that.

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