Publisher Angry Robot Bundles Free Ebook With Physical Copies And Triples Sales

from the because-free-is-the-most-popular-price-of-all dept

Bundling. It works in other industries. Many AAA game titles are released in Collector's Editions, packaging physical goods with the digital product. Nearly every band releasing on vinyl packages a digital download code with the album. DVDs aimed at kids do it all the time, adding stuffed animals or Christmas ornaments to the package as an incentive to buy. Your new razor comes with two “free” refills. Trial size bottles of new healthcare products are bundled with the stuff you usually buy. Facebook gives you a crappy email address you'll never use, free of charge.

But for books, not so much. At least not here in the US. But elsewhere, bundling ebooks with physical copies is showing some promising returns.

The Digital Reader details a trial run by publishing imprint Angry Robot, which hands out a free ebook download for every physical book purchased:

FutureBook yesterday featured a piece on an experiment in the UK between Osprey publishing imprint Angry Robot and independent bookshop Mostly Books to bundle a free electronic edition of an Angry Robot novel with each print copy of it sold. After just two weeks, Osprey’s CEO revealed that the bundling initiative had tripled the publisher’s sales at that store, and plans are in the offing to expand it to other independent bookstores.

It's a clever way to bump up flagging brick-and-mortar sales. Get them in the bookstore before giving them a digital bonus. It plays to the strengths of the indie bookstore: personal interaction and expertise. Even the ebook transaction has a personal touch.

The premise is simple. You buy an Angry Robot book, write down your email address at the till, and receive a free ebook edition of the book you bought, DRM free, by email.

It makes sense. Other publishers have experimented with this, but no one seems ready to make it the rule, rather than the exception. Angry Robot looks at this as win-win: it brings people back into indie bookstores and provides them with the convenience of a easily-transported ebook. Considering the costs are already sunk into the production of the physical product, bundling a digital file adds nothing (or close enough) to the overall cost. So far, the experiment (currently limited to one bookstore) seems to be a success.

At the beginning of July Osprey imprint Angry Robot launched a bundling experiment, Clonefiles, through the independent bookshop Mostly Books. The scheme offered the digital version of Angry Robot novels free to customers when they bought the physical paperback. Two weeks later Osprey chief executive Rebecca Smart told The Bookseller, that the initiative had trebled sales of the publisher’s titles at the trial store. The scheme has been supported in-store with a window display and signs explaining how it works. There is now an intention to roll it out in other independent bookshops.

Sales manager Roland Briscoe points out why this is working so well in this venue:

First and foremost, it allows us to leapfrog the competition in the value stakes. By offering dual-format, we suddenly have a hugely attractive offering that changes the focus from price and 'paper v digital' (for which there will only ever be a single winner, no prizes for guessing who) to added value.

Suddenly indies are able to take their traditional strengths – edited and curated choice, personal service and recommends – and stick a 'plus digital' on the end. It is genuinely a game-changer.

Clonefiles allows us to start a conversation with them, and it is amazing how customer have responded. From a slightly-embarrassed “let's all pretend eReaders don't exist” awkwardness, customers have opened up to us about their eReading experience – and in the process are actually telling us what we need to offer to stay relevant – and survive.

Part of what's holding this back from being offered by mainstream publishers is the feeling that bundling leaves money on the table. As Chris Meadows points out, major publishers are still hung up on monetizing every single iteration of a product:

Publishers have long had a problem getting over the mindset that every individual “copy” has to be paid for individually. (I remember, in the good old days when they were allowed to talk to people, the Pendergrasts of Fictionwise and eReader bemoaned the fact that publishers insisted that each different encrypted format of e-book sold in their store had to be sold separately.) And yet, given that Angry Robot’s experiment sold three times as many books as normal, that means they took in as much money as they would have if they’d gotten paid for the normal number of print books, that many e-books, plus the same amount extra.

Judging from the success of this experiment, it could certainly be argued that keeping the products separate is leaving a bit of money on the table as well. Considering the ubiquity of tablets, e-readers and smartphones, it just makes sense to reward someone who's willing to purchase physical items with a convenient copy to take on the move. This sort of bundling becoming more prevalent (especially among major publishing houses) may hinge on the Department of Justice decsions. Meadows points out that one of the stated goals of this settlement is to make this sort of experimentation easier and far more common.

In addition to the insistence that every version be paid in full, this lack of bundling may also be a perception problem, one that views physical purchasers as completely distinct from ebook purchasers. The overlap is probably more pronounced than most publishers realize. The most voracious readers do both. Even if the person buying the physical book has no use for the digital version, they can always hand it off to someone who does, thus introducing these books to new readers. This activity might rub some publishers the wrong way, but Angry Robot not only realizes this sort of thing will happen, but is completely cool with it:

We therefore believe (and I'm sure that we are only echoing the opinion of the majority here) that there is a place for both, and in actual fact having both formats is of benefit to everyone. So our bundling project, Clonefiles, is an attempt to give our readers what they tell us they want – the beautiful physical copy that they can give as a gift, swap with a friend or keep in their collection, together with the convenience of the digital file that they can read on the commute or family holiday.

It's not as if bundling hasn't worked in other artistic arenas. Most, if not all, albums offered on vinyl come with a digital download code for easier portability. Real life CIP: my brother is a bit of an audiophile and buys vinyl whenever possible. All of his bundled digital download codes end up in my hands, introducing me to bands he likes. (And not to sound like the guy who discovers the Rolling Stone's Exile on Main Street in 1985 and won't shut the hell up about it, but have you listened to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea? Amazing.)

Additionally, the bundled ebook could push the on-the-fence reader towards a purchase of an e-reader, turning them into a customer for digital offerings. How many fans have bought multiple copies of the same thing on multiple formats? (Yeah, that's all of us.) I have no doubt this happens with ebooks as well. Experimenting with price points and bundling has the potential to greatly increase a publisher's customer base, and if they can just get over the hang-up of keeping these products separate (although I would imagine royalty payments on different formats complicates the issue), they might find it easier to sell the physical books they'd obviously much rather be selling.

Last, but certainly not least, it pays to remember that people like getting stuff for free. They may never use the digital book, but they like feeling like they've gotten a deal. Simple psychology. More sales will go to the item that offers extra value, even if the bundled component is never used.

While the majors sort it out (with the help of the DOJ), the smaller publishers and bookstores can start reaping the benefits now. Angry Robot's experiment shows that is can work and as it expands its offerings, it should be able to provide better data on what works best for both the publisher and the bookstore. Either way, the readers will come out ahead.

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Comments on “Publisher Angry Robot Bundles Free Ebook With Physical Copies And Triples Sales”

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Maltesh Notovny (profile) says:

Baen's done it quite a few times.

Baen’s done a number of hardcover books shipping with CDs containing dozens of free ebooks. When I bought the hardcover copy of War Of Honor back in ’02, it came with a CD containing all the other Honor Harrington books up until then, and about two dozen other ebooks.

There are maybe five other science fiction series I probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on (and purchased books from) without that CD.

sehlat (profile) says:

Re: Baen's done it quite a few times.

Yes, Baen’s bundled CDs with some books, but those are CDs not “We pass your email address to them and you get a personal download link for your DRM-free copy.” I’ve emailed them with the link to this article and suspect Toni Weisskopf will at least be interested in the idea.

One thing about content publishers who DON’T try to own their customers. We’re a helluva lot more loyal to them than we are to the (too damn numerous) crowd who DO try to own us such as Hachette or the MAFIAA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Baen's done it quite a few times.

You make a great point about loyalty — amazing how being not treated like an assuming criminal can do to an attitude. I also thought this quote was quite telling:

“Clonefiles allows us to start a conversation with them, and it is amazing how customer have responded. From a slightly-embarrassed “let’s all pretend eReaders don’t exist” awkwardness, customers have opened up to us about their eReading experience – and in the process are actually telling us what we need to offer to stay relevant – and survive.”

Amazing what you can learn if you take time to ask questions.

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Re: Baen's done it quite a few times.

They also release the contents of those CD’s under what is effectively a CC-BY-NC-ND license.
There’s even an online archive of them with Baen’s blessing.

I always make it a point to escape from the bedlam of the EFForums track ( at dragoncon to go to the Baen travelling roadshow, and tell the publisher, and the writers, how much I appreciate their eBook policy. And I usually take some books I’ve bought in the past year to get signed too.

Gemmy (user link) says:

And it helps build their email outreach

One additional component of this smart idea that you didn’t mention is the database of valid email addresses of potential repeat customers that the bookstore is building up. I would give out my real email for a free copy of the ebook, and everyone who did would likely be interested in future promotions by that store/publisher.

Definitely win-win-win, as the readers, bookstore, and publisher all benefit.

Nick Dynice (profile) says:

Re: Misleading Title

I read it this way: Publisher [are] Angry [that a] Robot (Amazon’s “Frequently Bought Together” suggester, but free) Bundles Free Ebook With Physical Copies And Triples Sales.

And before reading the story I thought a book publisher didn’t like how their sales tripled because Amazon included a free ebook version of a physical book without their permission.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Judging from the success of this experiment, it could certainly be argued that keeping the products separate is leaving a bit of money on the table as well.

That’s assuming that everyone has some use for both formats. To give just one counterexample, a friend of mine is blind, and has no use for a paper book, bundled or otherwise, but thinks electronic formats are the best thing ever.

Ray Trygstad (profile) says:

Baen is amazing

I have been a huge fan of Baen Books for many, many years, and I worried that when Jim Baen passed away their commitment to giving away DRM-free digital editions of their books might wane, but their commitment has been unshakable. Because of this, when I go into a bookstore these days, like many other Baen readers I look for the red-and-yellow Baen spaceship. I know they publish books I will like, and I feel a strong need to support their tremendous free book efforts by spending the little money I do on real paper books on Baen books. Keep it up, Toni!

Steven Saus (user link) says:

We'll start doing this immediately.

My publishing company (small though it is) shall start doing this immediately.


Because those people who buy the print book are buying at a PREMIUM. They are the true fans who are willing to pay MORE for a physical artifact. Why should I punish them for that?

Instead, I should *reward* their loyalty and decision to support my authors. And then they’ll be more willing to do it again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We'll start doing this immediately.

Have you an Android app that drives sales already?

Somebody buys a book from you get a digital copy that has a link or QR Code that leads to a website where they can find backgrounds, images, sounds, interviews, autographs, photographs, posters, author schedules, alternative book covers, alternative editions, related books and so forth, some free content and some paid content.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am sure that, given the choice, than many readers would have preferred just to get the print edition cheaper, or to get the digital only version at a better price.

I am amazed that you think it’s some how new or shocking that people react to “FREE!” offers. It’s the most basic, the most simple, and honestly most intellectually unchallenged way to sell anything. Giving stuff away isn’t some magic new business model, it’s the first thing about selling things that even the cavemen would have learned.

Buy 1, get 1 free isn’t exactly a novel concept, is it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They react so well to “free” that it increases sales overall some times 4 times over like with games.


Valve Software released the Team Fortress 2 for about $20 as a standalone game as part of the company’s Orange Box. Valve later added an in-game store in which users could, but did not have to, purchase items. The store turned out to be so successful that the company turned Team Fortress into a free-play game, which increased store earnings to four times the revenue that Valve made initially from selling the game. This changed Valve’s business model fundamentally, and upcoming games like Dota 2 will start out as free-to-play right away to repeat the success story.

Only idiots are not, making online stores with free content as bait 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Don’t know ask Red Hat about how they are crying about it or Google about the Linux kernel they use on Android, or Apple about the BSD they use in their OS.

Red Hat – $9.2B
MySQL – $1B
Sourcefire – $700M
Xensource – $500M
Springsource – $420M
JBoss – $350M
Zimbra – $350M
Day Software – $240M
Suse – $210M

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s all well and good, but he implied that giving stuff away for free is the easiest sale in the world. Naturally, if such is true, then home users would be flocking to the free alternative: Linux.

They aren’t, as we know, even though it is free and a great OS that can even run the great majority of windows-only software flawlessly.

Perhaps selling things for free isn’t as easy as some try to make it?

Stephen says:

what stands in the way of bundling

What stands in the way of bundling print and ebooks isn’t publisher recalcitrance, but technology. Simply put, the digital and physical goods carts at Amazon do not speak to one another; therefore, you can’t put the digital half of a bundle in the print cart and vice versa. This will change. And publishers, at least the one I work at, has started offering bundles on their own sites, seeing as they can better manage a specific transaction.

As to bundling in general, publisher love it as do the big box stores. For instance, I do lots of golf books and would love to do some DVD/print bundles, but I’ve never been able to make the unit cost work out, seeing as the stores want to charge no more for the bundle than for the book and the p&l can’t bear the cost of the DVD, the bundling materials (such as a cardboard boot), and the bundling itself. You could put the DVD inside for a much smaller cost (around $1) and hope that no one just steals the DVD (which happens a lot), but with the ubiquity of streaming video and devices that can stream these bundles no longer have much of a point beyond looking more flashy than a book alone.

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