A star in the making?

I came across this article today on NYT:

How do you help brick-and-mortar stores sell books? Throw in an e-book.

That is the idea of one publisher, Algonquin, which began a promotion in 300Barnes & Noble stores this month that gives a discounted e-book to customers who buy an Algonquin trade paperback. The publisher has planned a similar effort for October, giving customers who buy a hardcover copy of “When She Woke,” by Hillary Jordan, the digital version of the book free.

I’m not sure about others, but I’m not too keen on having both versions of the same book. One publisher concedes as much:

Several publishers have experimented with bundling, whether by grouping several e-books together for one price or selling a print book paired with an e-book. “Consumers are starting to feel like, ‘If I’m buying the book, why do I have to buy it several times to have multiple formats?’ ” said Robert S. Miller, the group publisher of Workman.

In fact, this practice is pervasive. Newspaper and magazine companies do that all the time – FT, The Economist, NYT, you name it – as long as you subscribe to the print edition, they throw in the digital edition. Do we really need two versions of the same thing? If not, why do they even bother?

Dan Ariely has an answer. In Predictably Irrational (yes, for the umpteenth time – I cannot recommend a better book), he discusses how The Economist uses this strategy to help potential customers make up their minds. Look at the following ad, and before you read on, try and decide which of the three you’d pick if you were planning to subscribe to the magazine.

Internet: $59; Print: $125

Can’t decide which is better? Look at the third option. Internet + Print: $125. Wait, are we missing something? $125 for Print AND Internet? The Internet version is free (gasp) with the bundle! What’s going on here?

Putting these three options side by side, we can guess what The Economist is up to. All of a sudden, the third option seems so much more attractive than the other two, both of which have probably been giving you a tough time. Marginal cost of throwing in the digital edition: Negligible. Marginal benefit: One additional Print + Internet customer, who thinks he’s gotten himself a bargain.

Ariely’s point is that we rarely think in absolute terms; more often than not, we “focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.” And my point, is simply that this ostensibly strange strategy of throwing in a digital edition for free is not that strange after all.

All that talk about ebooks – how does the ebook compare with the print book? Here are some statistics:

For the wide range of free books that’s available online, I know I’ll hop onto the ebook bandwagon soonBut for me, it’ll never replace the print book.

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