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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Would you buy digital copies of books you already own?

By ERICA HARTNETT

Math Review for Standardized Tests

Source: Amazon.com

A few years ago, I was knee-deep in GRE prep guides, cramming my brain with middle school geometry and algebra. To accompany my Princeton Review books, I also ordered Math Review for Standardized Tests (Cliffs Test Prep) on Amazon, figuring there was a good chance I’d need some extra attention on the numbers end.

As I was checking out, I remember a little banner prompting me to purchase the digital version as well for only $1.09. Sure, why not. They got me.

 After all, it wasn’t that much more, and I knew I would use it. I was squeezing in study breaks during lunch hours at work, and that meant one less book I needed to transport back and forth every day. It wasn’t nearly as functional as some of the ebooks today, and I had to go to Amazon to read it through their Web platform (didn’t have a Kindle), but at the time? It worked. (And as an aside, I don’t believe they offer this bundling option any longer, as I haven’t seen that banner for years.)

In fact, I had almost forgotten about this purchase entirely, but with all of the attention on ebook pricing, I started to wonder whether I could see myself buying both print and digital copies. And then I realized I already had.

As a reader, I actually love owning multiple copies of works that I really enjoy and/or use frequently. For instance, I think I own at least three copies of Jane Eyre (hardcover, paperback, and digital, though in fairness, that was a free download). I am considering buying both a hard copy and a digital version of an HTML reference guide to keep handy, should I need it.

Of course, I certainly don’t buy multiple copies of every book I read, and I know this habit of mine might not be the mainstream view. Moreover, I just can’t afford to pay an extra ten dollars (or more) for a backup copy of a casual read. It has to be something I’ll either cherish, use a lot, or both.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see a pricing structure built into a book right up front so that publishers can, in fact, offer a reduced digital price with the purchase of the hardcover or paperback on a more widespread basis.

Now, I know it’s a tricky argument. On the one hand, you wouldn’t expect a reader to demand a free paperback just because they bought the hardcover a few months ago. But people have a different perception when it comes to digital files.

Take the music industry as an example. If you buy a CD, you can import the tracks to your computer and add them to your iPod at no additional cost. Technically, as long as you own the physical CD, you’re free to make a digital copy for personal use. Given that history, and the ease with which this can be done, I think people naturally bristle at the idea of paying for something they already own in one form or another.

I am excited to see, however, that certain authors and publishers are testing out a free-digital-with-print strategy. On the magazine front, for example, if you are a print Real Simple subscriber, you are entitled to receive the tablet edition at no additional cost—as long as you continue to be a print subscriber.

On the book side of things, author Lewis Perdue is offering a free ebook version of Die by Wire for readers who have purchased the paperback. To download the book, you are prompted to enter your email address and a certain word on a certain line/page number to prove that you bought the book. Admittedly, they must know that the secret word can easily be shared, and readers who borrow the book from the library could potentially get an electronic copy for free…but hey, they’ve got your email address, so perhaps marketing potential carries greater value.

All in all, as a consumer, I’m not going to turn away free digital copies…but I actually don’t mind paying a small fee for the digital copy if it means I can obtain both. Otherwise, at full price, I’ll most likely choose one or the other.

I’m curious where you stand on the issue. As consumers, would you be willing to pay a couple of extra dollars for a digital copy of a book? Or would you expect it to be free? And as publishers, do you think a “best of both worlds” pricing model is possible?

2 comments on “Would you buy digital copies of books you already own?

  1. klinep
    January 6, 2012

    For the moment, I do not have an ereader, but I plan to rectify that in the coming months… and so, yes, I could see myself paying a dollar or two more to have a digital copy, not of every book I buy, as you pointed out, but mainly of the books I will be using for my reasearch for my thesis.

    By the way, I think this blog is an excellent project as both someone interested in education (my bachelor’s degree was in French education) and publishing (my Master’s degree is in publishing and the subject of my thesis is digital textbooks). Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  2. Anonymous
    February 25, 2012

    I would absolutely pay a little extra for a digital copy of a book I purchase. I love the smell and feel of a book and love adding to my library. That being said, I also love reading at night without bothering my husband with my lamp. My kindle is ideal and easy to carry everywhere.

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This entry was posted on January 5, 2012 by in Business, Opinion and tagged , .

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