The Book World Goes Sensibly Digital

There are some ear­ly signs that pub­lish­ers and book­sellers may be see­ing the light.

Until recent­ly, the book world applied an irra­tional log­ic to down­load­able audio­books and pod­casts. As we not­ed back in Feb­ru­ary, the paper ver­sion of the best­selling busi­ness book, The Long Tail, ran con­sumers $16.47 on Ama­zon. And yet the cheap­er-to-pro­duce audio ver­sion implau­si­bly amount­ed to $31.95 on iTunes and $27.99 on Audi­ble. Did it make sense? Hard­ly.

Since Feb­ru­ary, a lit­tle bit of rea­son has been inject­ed into the mar­ket. As the The New York Times recent­ly not­ed, the pub­lish­er Hen­ry Holt made a smart move. They took the pop­u­lar pod­cast, The Gram­mar Girl (iTunes Feed Web Site), and with­in days spun off an hour­long audio­book priced at a sane $4.95. The next thing you know, it became the best­selling audio­book on iTunes. Here, the audio­book for­mat let pub­lish­ers respond to a mar­ket oppor­tu­ni­ty — and far more quick­ly than they ever could have with a tra­di­tion­al book. (A tra­di­tion­al Gram­mar Girl book won’t come out until next year.)

Ratio­nal act #2: Some pub­lish­ers are now releas­ing audio ver­sions of new books before issu­ing the actu­al hard copies. Why? Because, they’ve found that dig­i­tal copies can gen­er­ate buzz and greater sales for paper copies. And yes, in these sit­u­a­tions, the dig­i­tal and paper ver­sions are com­pa­ra­bly priced.

Final­ly, book­sellers are now using audio to inform con­sumers and moti­vate them to click “Add to Shop­ping Cart” a lit­tle more often. Take for exam­ple the new line of pod­casts from Ama­zon. Cre­at­ed by in-house edi­tors, Ama­zon Wire (iTunesFeed ) offers inter­views and exclu­sives with authors of new books. Ama­zon Book­Clips (iTunesFeed ) puts a spot­light on up-and-com­ing and best­selling authors. And with Sig­nif­i­cant Sev­en (iTunesFeed), Ama­zon points you to new must-read titles. How well inte­grat­ed into Ama­zon’s sales efforts, and how effec­tive these pod­casts will be at gen­er­at­ing sales, all remains to be seen. But it at least points to a more sen­si­ble way of bring­ing the dig­i­tal and paper worlds togeth­er.


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.