officebuildingwindowsE-book windowing is a way to prevent e-books from cannibalizing print book sales. Just release your new titles first in print format only.

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

The awareness obstacle starts with creation and careful management of a customer list. E-mail newsletters are critical and they must contain valuable information and insights, not just one promotional message after another. This isn’t just about e-mails and list management though. A publisher needs to be committed to building community with their audience, giving people reasons to come to its site on a regular basis, etc. Many publishers are allergic 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 e-book 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 e-book 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 entice 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 e-book 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.

What do you think?

Photo credit: Here.

Reproduced with permission from Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.

Also of interest: Reverse Windowing: On publishing an eBook before print, a 2010 blog post by John Yunker promoting his novel The Tourist Trail.


  1. I have lived with the windowing of books for my entire life. Before the internet existed the first version of a book to be released was usually a hardcover, that I could not afford to buy. So I would wait for a paperback to be released, usually a year of so later. Then I bought the paperback.

    As a result, I could have accepted ebook windowing, without too much trouble, if it had been done well. My theoretical acceptance of eBook windowing, however, was destroyed by the traditional publishers total and utter incompetence. Specifically, it was the uncertainty that enraged me. Some eBooks were released on the same day as the paper book. Some came a week or two later. Some didn’t arrive for months. There were NEVER any announcements or explanations. I couldn’t make plans.

    On a few occasions I finally broke down after waiting and waiting for an eBook to be released and bought a paper copy of a book I wanted. Then I would see the eBook version of those titles listed for sale a week later. This caused a slight amount of irritation to develop.

    All I ever wanted from a publisher was a clear policy statement about eBook sales, something like:

    If we own the rights to publish an electronic copy of a book then we WILL release an eBook version of the work EXACTLY xx days after the paper book release date, and it WILL be available from from the usual online books stores, as well as from our own web store, and the list price WILL be yy percent of the price of the paper copy.
    If some exceptional circumstance prevents us from meeting these commitments, then we will post a notice on a book schedule notices page at our web store.

    Dealing directly with the public, however, or trying to make them happy, or to keep them informed, was (and still is) right at the bottom of most publishers list of priorities.

    So, could your new model of windowing work? Sure. It *could* work, but it *won’t* work because the same executives who have mis-managed the implementation of eBooks over the last 15 years will be in charge of any new windowing system, and they will mis-manage it as well.

  2. Funny that you mention this now… Baen books has done something like this for 15 years and just this month announced that they were stopping it.

    Baen, a science fiction publisher, has since Dec 1999, sold a “Web Subscription”, (now called “Baen Monthly Bundle”) of it’s current monthly releases. They would release the books incrementally, releasing 1/3 of the book starting 4 months in advance and releasing the entire book on the 15 of the month before the book officially dropped. You did have to buy the entire monthly selection of books, but it is at a discount (for April ( it’s $18 for 8 books which include one new hardback release, 3 new paperback releases and 4 reissues… but these are books with list prices ranging from $6.99 to $9.99).

    However, starting this month, Baen now releases it’s “Monthly Bundles” at the beginning of the month that the book drops. See

    Baen used to have the monthly bundles available for purchase at any time; you could go and buy the monthly bundle from June of last year, for example. However in Feb 2013 they changed their policy – they stopped selling their monthly bundle after the release day of the books (that is, you could no longer go back and buy a bundle for a previous month) and they raised ebook prices ( ); I believe that both of these moves were to meet Amazon’s demands so that they could sell Baen books through Amazon.

    I would guess that Amazon would not allow any publisher to both sell ebooks early (exclusively on the publisher’s webpage) and sell on; though I guess if you allowed Amazon to also sell your ebooks, maybe that would fly.

    Oh, and Baen has been DRM free from the very beginning; I purchased many Baen books for Microsoft Reader on my Compaq PDA 15 years ago that I later was able to download from Baen in other formats as I changed technologies.

      • They still sell the E-ARCs. They change affects customer who buy advance monthly bundles. They used to get the last section of the books before the books were released to the stores. Now the last section is delayed until the release date.

    • As has been noted above Baen have been doing this since November 1999 with the Monthly Bundles.

      More importantly they have been doing it with individual eBooks ever since they started to sell individual eBooks (which was a year or two later).

      Until this month the Individual eBooks went on sale around the 16th of the month, the month before the formal publication date, i.e. the same time (or a day or two later) that the bundle books were available in their final complete formats.

      Baen have always released their new Hardcovers on the First Tuesday of the Month, and paperbacks a week earlier on the last Tuesday of the previous month, and it used to be that the eBooks were even earlier.
      The change is to drop them backwards by between 2 and 3 weeks to match the Hardcover.
      (The date of the first Tuesday changes each month so the interval from the middle of the previous month varies.)


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