Bundle e-books? What about Audiobooks?

When the topic of bundling is brought into the conversation, many often think about print and e-books being bundled, but what about bundling audiobooks with print or e-books instead? Audiobooks can be seen as the retro era of digital books, but within recent years they have been seeing a rise in sales:

“Publishers submitting to the Audio Publishers Association (APA) Sales Survey reported a production increase from 7,237 titles in 2011 to 35,574 titles in 2015—a nearly 500-percent increase. Sales revenue of audio has been continuously gaining as well, with nearly 21 percent growth reported for 2015 over the prior year.”

With the beginning of iPods and smartphones, audiobooks now have a wider range of distribution. You no longer need a car to play them while commuting, or carry a bunch of tapes or CDs in your bag. Everything can be stored in your small device that is taken everywhere. And audiobooks can now be instantly downloaded into your computer. Society is not demanding media in physical form:

“Majority of audiobook consumers opt for instant gratification by downloading audiobooks straight to their devices … Some people even pay non-resident fees to libraries in other areas to take advantage of that library’s audiobook catalog.”

Bundling audiobooks may not be a priority for big trade publishers because, like e-books, audiobooks are another format of the book to sell. Publishers do not want to take a chance on losing revenue. But Shelfie, a Canadian e-bundling service, is doing it:

“35% of all audiobooks that are compatible are 100% free and the rest are severely discounted so you won’t pay the same price as you normally would with iTunes or Audible.”

Also, one of the biggest book sellers is bundling as well. Amazon is bundling their e-books with audiobooks on their Kindle Paperwhite. Consumers can buy an e-book for their Kindle and add and audio companion. Amazon has also partnered their Matchmaker with Audible audiobooks to pair Kindle books. Readers can then switch between formats:

“Allows readers to pick up at the right spot when switching between reading and listening to books, across devices … able to add a narrated copy of a book to your Kindle ebook with one click.”

Some may think that bundling audiobooks with formats like e-books may be pointless because a lot of devices have text-to-speech features, but if you have ever used that feature it sounds like a robot is reading to you, which is boring. If audiobooks are bundled, it allows the consumer to share the book with any family or friends that are visually impaired. Hachette knows the importance of including disabled readers by making an audiobook catalog available through the National Library Service:

“Hachette Book Group strives to make authors’ content as widely accessible as possible, and the NLS program is the perfect channel to reach fans of our books and audiobooks who otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience those works”.

With the rise of audiobooks, publishers and book sellers may be hesitant to bundle audiobooks for free or even at a deep discount. Audiobooks are rising in sales and more titles are being produced each year:

“The global audiobook industry is currently evaluated at 2.8 billion dollars and this is primarily due to the sheer amount of new titles that were produced in 2015. 43,000 new audiobooks were released this year, which is a slight increase from the 36,000 that came out in 2014 and a far cry from the 20,000 that were issued in 2013.”

But publishers do not have to have every title bundled with an audiobook. They can bundle a handful of audiobooks and give readers a taste of audiobooks, and the potential for them to start buying more audiobooks. Another option is what Audible has done with Onebook, where they have increased Audible’s visibility:

“With the current Send A Book initiative, the biggest change is that Audible subscribers now can share a book in their library with up to 1,000 people. The recipients still can redeem only one free book, but they now have the option to send it to people in their network. Recipients do not need to create an Audible account … as long as they have an existing account on Amazon.”

It is not surprising that audiobooks are becoming more popular. It is easier for people to carry books in their devices than physical form, and when commuting it is more hands-free; you can read while you walk. Audiobooks can also be nostalgic by bringing you back to childhood memories where your parents read to you. With the rise of audiobooks, publishers can take the advantage to bundle audiobooks to let buyers sample it, and lead them to continue buying audiobooks. Could more retailers and publishers go into the audiobook direction?


Shelfie: Revolutionary or Pointless?

Shelfie—formerly BitLit—is an app service that allows users to bundle their print books with e-books. All you have to do is take a picture of your book shelf and Shelfie then identifies what books are available to download. Then take a picture of your book with your name written in it, and then your book is sent to your e-reader or in PDF format. You can also log in to your Goodreads account. Though the app is free, not all books are free. Some books have to be re-bought, in order for Shelfie to make money. The idea is solid, but the practice still needs some work. As a writer on CNET said:

BitLit currently offers a very limited selection — only about 75,000 books, so the likelihood of a match is pretty slim. Browsing the library, I recognized very few mainstream authors.

But Shelfie is branching out to bigger publishing partners. Last year, Shelfie partnered with Macmillian, bringing under 3,000 titles to the app. Shelfie has also partnered with HarperCollins, going from “just a handful of titles to about 10,000.” And Shelfie keeps adding more publishers:

“Since adding Wiley in January, BitLit has grown its title count by an additional 20,000 to a current total of just under 100,000 titles, and its roster of participating publishers has risen from approximately to 280 to 350 over the same period.”

“BitLit is on track to hit 250,000 titles later this year and confirms the company is in talks with all of the Big Five.”

Shelfie is also adding audiobooks to the collection:

“Around 20,000 audiobook are being added to the service today, including the entire HarperAudio catalog (over 4,500 audiobooks) as well as titles from Blackstone Audio, Gildan Media, Hachette Audio, and Naxos Audiobooks; and audiobooks by such bestselling authors as Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Chris Kyle, and Haruki Murakami.”

Shelfie may be the bundling path of the future, other than publishers directly doing it, but there is a major question to be brought up: Will piracy be a big issue?

Anyone who takes a picture of the his/her book must write their name in pen inside, but how will that stop them from using books that they do not own? According to the CEO Peter Hudson:

“Their computer vision algorithms can verify that the physical book is real …  the particular physical book has not been previously registered with BitLit … plan to manually audit a portion of registrations to prevent gaming of the system.”

Shelfie also allows their partnered publishers to have a system of DRM applied to the files. But not all readers are going to want DRM files. If a reader downloads an e-book specifically for Kindle, and they go out and forget the Kindle at home or forget to charge it, it does not seem fair to the reader to not be able to read the e-book on a phone or computer. Publishers have a fear of readers downloading e-books and then sharing them with friends and family, but how is that any different from someone buying a print book and letting others borrow it? It is free publicity for the book. There is an honour system for the readers. Not every reader will pirate the book, but one will. But loyal readers will always pay for books, even pay extra to bundle the formats. Using Shelfie already proves that the reader chose to pay for the book.

Shelfie is still relatively new, and because of that, the app is still in progress. They still have a limited range of books, but they are growing. And they are working with publishers concerned about piracy. Once the issues are dealt with, the app could be a great asset to readers. It gives print readers the opportunity to read their favourite book whenever they want. But one thing as a reader I would change is writing your name in the book. I refuse to write in my books. Maybe since it is called Shelfie, how about readers take selfies with their books instead?

Interactive eBooks

When eBooks emerged into the publishing world, it expanded the possibilities that could be done with books. Publishers now have an opportunity to give readers an experience that goes further than reading, they can interact with the content. Now, with ePUB3, it can easily be done; eBooks can include audio and videos. Interacting with the book can benefit those in the education market, children’s books, or consumers that want more than just reading.

This video demonstration of Our Choice done by software developer Mike Matas is a great example of what can be done with interactive eBooks:

Digital editions of books can be used for educational purposes. Teachers and professors can use these editions to help their students have a better understanding of the text. Publishers of educational books can offer an e-edition of their textbooks along with the purchase of the print edition. In math or science, students can interact with formulas, or get a better understanding of science with interactive quizzes or being more hands-on with the information:

“Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, where you interact with the storyline through interactive demonstrations and games that allow you to get hands-on with the science discussed in the book…letting you simulate the effects of heat, pressure, and gravity on different states of matter.”

With literature, the e-edition can give readers embedded annotations, more context of the content, or videos to go along with plays. Norton is a great example of what can be done with an e-edition. With the purchase of Norton’s 3rd print edition of Shakespeare, the reader also receives a Digital Product License to have access to the digital copy. Students are given a better understanding of what they’re reading. Norton’s e-edition can also be used for theatre students:

“Performance Comments highlight how a director or actor’s choices in performance affect meaning, while Textual Comments focus on the impact of textual-editing decisions. Students can also listen to recordings of all of the songs in the plays and over 8 hours of specially recorded spoken-word audio by the highly regarded Actors from the London Stage.”

If Norton’s doing this with Shakespeare, it can also be done with other classic texts students are reading in school and have a hard time understanding the content.

Interactive eBooks can also be used for children’s books. Kids can play games that will keep the story flowing, online colouring book stories, or make the kid an author and have them create the story. Interactive eBooks could also include animations, where the kid can watch the story come to life as they read it. There are many possibilities that can be done with interactive eBooks. They can also be used for more than just leisurely texts, like for practical texts as well:

“…interactive travel guides that utilize the device GPS capabilities, cookbooks with built-in timers and video recipes…”

With so many different ways of using eBooks, why aren’t they being taken advantage of? Are interactive eBooks the best direction for digital publishing? Will there be enough demand for publishers to put time, effort, and money into them? Or will interactive eBooks just be too distracting to the reader, that they won’t even read the text?