November 10, 2015

A Great Idea

by Jude Feldman

Customers frequently ask us how they can buy e-books, and still support Borderlands.  Now there's a way.  It's not precisely the way we would choose -- we'd rather you could purchase e-books directly from us -- but it's the best solution we've found so far, and it's really pretty smart.  There's an additional benefit, too: you can also get free or inexpensive digital versions of the paper books you already own!  BitLit <> is the company working on making this possible. 

Brandon Sanderson (many of whose books are available through the BitLit app) was the one who told us about this.  The basic idea is that you get the app, which is free for iOS and Android.  You snap a well-lighted picture of your bookshelf (cleverly called -- what else? -- a "Shelfie",) and the app will let you know which of your books are available for free (or pretty cheap) download.  Select the book(s) you want.  Sign & photograph the copyright page(s) (or take a pic of your bookplate) to easily prove it's actually your book.  Send BitLit the photos, and they'll email you the e-book, which you can read on your existing e-Reader: Kobo, Nook, Kindle, or just in .pdf on your computer or phone.  It doesn't matter where your purchased your books, how long you've owned them.

BitLit currently offers around 75,000 titles for download, and they say the number is increasing every day, as more and more publishers realize what a good idea this is.  Already you can get most of Brandon's books, Joe Hill's, Jane Lindskold's, Neal Stephenson's, Charles Stross', Jo Walton's, F. Paul Wilson's . . . . the list goes on.  It is true that 75,000 books is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the books that readers already own, and might want to get digitally, but progress is certainly being made.  So far, of the "Big 5" publishers, HarperCollins and Macmillan are on board, although only for a portion of their lists.  I do believe the idea will take root and expand, though.  And while many of the books are free, some do have a nominal cost - usually between $2.99 and $6.99.  I think it's likely the prices will decrease, though, again as more publishers join up and add more titles, and the idea becomes more commonplace.

We've believed for a long time that it's an extremely logical next step to also offer the e-book to physical book purchasers, for the quite large number of people who would like the advantages of both -- i.e. the beautiful, well-crafted object of the physical book (possibly signed by the author!), and also the portable, take-anywhere convenience of the e-book.  

And yes, there is already an Amazon thingamabob (called MatchBook; why the company ever thought that mixing fire imagery and books was a good idea is beyond me) that does something similar, but (1) it only works with physical books you purchased from Amazon, (2) you can only use it on a Kindle, and (3) their available selection, which currently offers fewer titles than BitLit, seems to be mostly composed of books that were self-published via Amazon.

This is not a new idea, but it does seem to be gaining ground.  Baen Books has made e-versions of their titles available for years, without even asking you to purchase the physical book -- they have the Baen Free Library <>.  They've also included CD's with a bunch of the author's backlist books with new Baen hardcovers.  Offering readers free books is certainly a generous, benevolent thing for them to do, but Baen is also shrewd enough to understand that it's an easy way to get readers utterly hooked on their authors and their books, and intent on purchasing that next volume.

I love physical books.  I don't ever want to give them up.  But there are definitely times when I am away from home and wish that I could just quickly check something -- a quote, a fact, a particularly lovely sentence -- that is printed in a book I own.  Or I am stuck in line at the post office with nothing to read.  At those times it would be terrific to be able to pull up one of my books on my phone and dive right in.

As I mentioned in opening, the logical extension of the process under discussion is also a way for readers to have their cake and eat it, too -- to keep physical bookstores like Borderlands, with their myriad advantages besides just selling books (like making the most accurate recommendations, being social centers, and providing places for readers to engage with authors,) in business -- to let readers possess beautiful objects in the form of physical books, while still being able to take their library on that long road trip with them.

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