On the Bookseller blog, UK bookstore owner Tim O’Kelly looks at the impending rise of e-books and fall of bookstores, the purchase of The Book Depository by Amazon and the general upheaval in the publishing industry and calls for action to strengthen publishing and slow down bookstores’ demise. What action does he call for? Bundling the e-book with sales of the print book.

A concern might be that if the e-book was part of a package and not paid for, sales would be lost. However it’s clear that the reverse would be true. Very few people currently buy both forms of a book separately, so only a tiny proportion of sales would go—and one thing we know for sure about British consumers is that they love a bargain. More copies of books would undoubtedly be sold and it would return power to the physical book and its publisher. Some people would continue to buy the electronic version on its own—like the people who use iTunes to buy their music.

I think it could be safely said that consumers anywhere love a bargain, and I have little doubt I’d buy more print books if I could get the e-book along with them for the same price. A number of people have called for e-book/print book bundling over the last few years. But it’s unclear whether publishers (except for Baen, of course) would ever go for that, as focused as they are on individual sales.


  1. Hmm… someone else who thinks of ebooks as throwaway products and giveaway items. To those of us who have already moved on from printed books, we see no value at all in this proposition. Maybe if O’Kelly could find a way to efficiently sell ebooks in his store, he wouldn’t lose so many customers…

  2. I see no logic in this proposal at all. eBook readers have no interest in a paper edition and paper fetishists have no interest in eBooks . . .
    If they want to sell more then they need to do what matters, drop the price.

  3. I’d probably buy the bundle on some titles: literary fiction and non-fiction mostly. Genre fiction, not so much, but I wouldn’t rule it out. The price difference between paper+ebook isn’t going to break the bank over just ebook alone–which would be what: $2 or $3 less at the best?

  4. Greg M., not the ones I’ve been seeing. Ebook prices are comparable to hard cover and usually more than paperback. I can see bundling paper and ebook as long as there is a substantial discount for ebook, but not for free. Put a reasonable price on the ebook and discount the hardcover or paperback and that would make sense for the author and the consumer.

  5. Howard, you’re wrong in saying that ebook enthusiasts have no interest in paper and paper enthusiasts have no interest in e-formats. There are certain authors that I collect in paper (like Terry Pratchett) but also read in e-format, to preserve the paper versions, many of which I have in very old mass market form that are falling apart. I deliberately purchased a Baen hardback that I normally would have waited for mass market, in order to have the cd of the author’s backlist in eformat.

  6. This would be a great boon if restricted only to small bookstores (i.e., non-chain) for in-store sales only. Of course, we are losing some of our chain bookstores too, but the small privately owned bookstores are really struggling.

  7. I have gone completely to buying only ebooks.

    Under this propose “bundle” system, I am forced to take a paper book along with the ebook that I really want.

    The instant result is that I will sell my paper copies to used book stores for some trivial amount, say 25 cents (or pence for the British). 25 cents is better than nothing, and it helps offset the higher cost of the “bundle.”

    How does flooding the used book stores with unwanted paper books help either publishers or book sellers? Those who really want to buy paper books, and don’t want ebooks, could buy really cheap, brand new, and flawless paper books from used book stores.

    So, the bundle is split. I keep the ebook. Someone else gets the paper book. Customers win, book sellers lose.

    Although there may be a small number of book buyers that want both formats, I really doubt if they are a significant market.

  8. Howard, becca is not untypical. Now that I have a Kindle, I purchase ebooks even though I already have paperback or hard cover versions. I like having the option. Ebooks are especially useful when the paper version is humongous, like most of Stephen King’s works. It gets tiring hold a big book. For instance, I bought the four book set of George R. R. Martin’s Ice & Fire series and when I got to the third book, broke down and bought the ebook version. I will still collect the paper versions, but I want the ebook versions for ease of reading. What else am I going to do with all these shelves except fill them with my own books and other authors’? Some authors I collect in hard cover and some in paperback. Having options is what it’s all about.

  9. JM – I am in no way an expert and my opinion is only that, I accept. However I would be mind numbingly shocked if there were in any way a sizeable proportion of readers who regularly buy paper versions of titles, that they already read in eBook form, simply to collect on shelves. Seriously ?

  10. Howard, I don’t just buy paper versions to keep on shelves. There are times when an eReader is not useful, like when it runs out of battery life and there is no electricity. As long as there is daylight and candlelight, or light from a lantern, a book will always be useful. The eReader isn’t always useful and paper books always are. Besides, there is no substitute for a signed first edition of a novel and I’d hate to lose those. It’s always a good idea to keep several options available.

  11. The feel of paper and smell of ink intertwines sensually with Sunday morning coffee on a leather couch while a plethora of eBooks can easily travel in an efficient electronic device. I would be happy to have access to the same book in different formats and chose my method of consumption based on essence or convenience. I love keeping my options open and having continuously available choices. Isn’t that what the most successful industries provide in our modern times? I say bring on the bundles.

  12. JM – I understand fully what you are saying and I can see that there is reason behind what you do … and not wishing to be argumentative.. but isn’t it still a very small, perhaps even a tiny, proportion of people that are likely to be doing what you do ? 🙂

  13. Howard, I know a lot of people, mostly writers and voracious readers, and they all do the same things. It depends on their financial circumstances, but mostly they buy paper and digital books. How many of each is determined by their favorite authors, collecting habits, and the price of ebooks. Few of them are willing to pay hard cover or near hard cover price for an ebook and yet publishers keep setting the prices far too high. When prices of eReaders and ebooks come down to a more reasonable level that might change, but these people are advocates of books in any and every form. After all, how can you get a digital version of a rare book that has been out of print for over 100 years or put a price on an autographed first edition by a favorite author?

    While the move is more and more to digital, until the above changes, I don’t see habits changing. Now, I have boxes of books I’ve reviewed that I keep donating to libraries and places like Goodwill. I wouldn’t want them in any form, except for a few. Books do tend to pile up and moving with all those books in boxes is a real pain.

  14. @Howard I am another one that wishes that there was a bundling deal everywhere for eBooks + Print editions. I have mostly moved to the digital platform, but things like my computer books, such CompTIA A+ certification, Objective-C programming, etc. all benefit from bundles. As was pointed out before, traveling with eBooks is easier and print editions do not rely on battery power (or Internet), as was also pointed out before. The place where I get much of my computer books. O’Reilly offers bundle packages and they do not force those on customers, just like satellite/cable providers do not force customers to bundle all services they provide (e.g. Internet, Phone, TV, etc.). O’Reilly lets you purchase just the electronic edition or just the print edition, as well as a bundle package for those who want both. That is how I see this to work out the best for everyone. You keep playing the side where the bundle option is forced on everyone.

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