Monday, March 09, 2009

Becareful What You Wish For - NelsonFree

The film business has a staggered release strategy, which over time becomes shorter and often a little confusing as the stagger varies often with success, or lack of it. The principle is to release in the cinema, followed by the DVD followed by TV. Although it works it also means that the pirates have a window of opportunity. In the music industry they still try to first release the album then peel of the singles, but as we are aware, it’s now is the track that rules not the album.

In the booktrade we had the hardback which then morphed into a paperback. We now even have many sizes of paperbacks and as long as it finishes .99 or .95 we every price imaginable. What the booktrade has in the main missed with digital, is why the other media sectors discovered, often painfully. The public want choice, value and when you want to drive migration, clear value add. The only difference between the hardback, paperbacks, large print and now ebook, is the ISBN, packaging and of course price.

Some would state that if the DVD hadn’t offered those extra edits and price we still would be watching VHS. Yet we expect customers to flood to ebooks to read the same content, for often the same price and shell out for whatever technology is required!
We had to take a step back to consider last week’s news that Thomas Nelson announced to launch NelsonFree, a program enabling readers to receive content in all multiple formats physical book, audiobook and e-book at one price and without making multiple purchases. It would have been easy to raise a glass in its support or lambast it as na├»ve but we felt that we had to give it some extra thought.

The NelsonFree price is based on the hardback, so it’s a sort of bundled price; buy the hardback and ‘get as much as you can read’ and that includes both the audio download and the e-book in multiple formats. At first glace this looks a great consumer offer, three formats for the price of one. It obviously will alert readers to the alternative formats and also may prompt the to try them out. It obviously also gets publicity and gives attention to titles that may not have received it. So is it a winner all round?

Unlike music the majority of readers only buy one copy of the book, so why would you they actually need three? They may play the audio in the car and read the book at lesure but does this flip floppin actually engage or does it distract and break the experience? Flipping between the physical and ebook may make more sense as the experience is basically the same but would NelsonFree get the publicity for a bundle that has been done before in many ways?

The audio and the ebook are likely to have DRM encryption applied so you can’t share them with friends or give them away as presents. Conversely the hardback could be given away as a present and the ebook and digital copy retained. Perhaps it should be buy the ebook and get the hardback free?

The author royalties are whatever has been agreed but if the Guild of Authors objected to text to speech on the Kindle we wonder what they think to speech and ebook for free under NelsonFree?

Finally in some countries there will be tax implications as the audio and ebook would be taxable renditions and the physical book exempt. The result here would be that there would be a taxable element applied and tax due on the sale. Some would suggest that bundling may raise again the question of tax on digital renditions and that this may not always give result expected.

Its often hard to say whether an experiment is good or bad. It is just an experiment and sometimes the outcome will surprise us all. However we need to be wary that if will position this and similar offers such as the recent Faber, as the ebook or digital free or based on the physical being bought the we may start to undervalue the digital copy before it has even got of the ground. Also if we continue to flip flop between formats with no added value other than the weight convenience and DRM inconvenience we may fail to ignite the market and accept low digital take up as a given.

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