The lost art of indexes in ebooks
What’s the missing ingredient for unlimited reading services?

A new take on ebook windowing

Window-941625_1920Ebook 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% of the selling price vs. only about 50% when the ebook is sold through a retailer. So why not pass a portion of that difference along to consumers? A 40%-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.



Another problem: you're throwing your retail channels under the bus. Not that it will hurt Amazon, but a window of print-only availability is an excellent tool for driving consumers to independent booksellers and B&N. Creating a "successful direct channel" at the expense of existing retailers is bad strategy. If publishers were great retailers, they should do that, instead of publishing. Great businesses focus on what they do best.

Joe Wikert

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Mike. Perhaps a real example will show you that this doesn't result in throwing the retailers under a bus. The ebook is generally created at the same time the print book is about to go off to the printer. Let's say that date is March 21. I'm suggesting the ebook becomes available exclusively on the publisher's website on March 21 while the print book is being produced.

In all likelihood, that book going to the printer on March 21 doesn't hit physical bookstore shelves till at least two to three weeks later, typically April 4 or 11. In reality, it often takes even longer than that before it first appears on shelves.

In the scenario I just described nothing much happens between March 21 and April 4/11. Sure, print backorders accumulate, but that process could continue in the scenario I'm describing. For those two to three weeks after March 21 the publisher could make the ebook available only from their website and print distribution is not affected.

I suggested a monthlong period of ebook exclusivity in the article but it could just be two or three weeks. It depends on the publisher's schedules and how they decide to leverage this sort of approach.

David Aldridge

If you have your technology in place there are all sorts of other options available.

For example, you can offer to early ebook sellers a subsequent discount on a direct print book purchase.

Or you can offer to print book pre-purchasers the eBook for nothing, which amounts to the same thing with an effective commitment to buy the print book.

Barbara Miller

There are so many books and so many publishers--it is not clear that strategies above are mutually beneficial to both publishers and readers on a large scale. Everything comes down to economics. The current strategy might not be best either. Publishers have been resistant to change or have mismanaged their efforts, yet criticism is not always fair. There are so many moving parts in the marketplace that may never converge for a variety of good and bad reasons. It is tricky when publishers are taken to task when they have a viable business model or monetization of product. For print product we need fewer to no print returns, a move back to smaller storefronts and for publishers to lower expectations for D2C for p and e books, in a good way--then build from there and see what is realistic. The above stated strategies may work for a certain % of sales or particular types of titles or publishers, not necessarily across the board. Or perhaps in some cases to a particular type of customer. BMM

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)