Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we'd be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I wonder if we can call e-book cards Quatloos?

Dean Wesley Smith on how to think like a publisher #11. he has an idea of how to sell e-books as physical objects, and it's pretty interesting (Grokked from Jay Lake). There's a few things wrong with this, but they're at the tips of my fingers and I haven't been able to grab ahold of them yet.

The one thought I could wrestle to the ground is that while he's talked to indie booksellers if they like they idea, I'm not sure he's talked to those who read books on e-readers if they'd want to purchase books this way. Seems like if you have the reader, you already have a good mechanism for purchasing built-in.

However, that's not to say this isn't a cool mechanism, and a very useful one at that. Now, while he was talking about a "book on a gift card" I have to admit I saw a different purchasing mechanism. Most smart phones/e-readers don't have card readers (as in magnetic strip readers), but that may also be an interesting way of selling books (need to verify data storage capabilities on those magnetic strips).

Enthrill ebooks (linked to from DWS's article) have created a business model for this, but I think they missed the boat here. They're using QR technology, but I don't think to it's fullest extent. See, with QR tech, you could give books serial numbers (they don't have the information density to include a whole book, but could be customized to URLS). Each one of those cards on the stack could have a unique QR tag, which would lead to a discrete ebook sale/download (also possible with the book on magnet strip idea above). And the information you could garner from that scheme I think publishers/retailers would love to have. (And here I will let leak that one of my book promo ideas was to use QR codes to distribute samples, you know, once I get published).

The big draw back to all of these right now is device integration. There's only one e-reader that I think would work with this (although my knowledge of e-readers is woefully small here), the Nook. Which has been getting big buzz lately. But then, just as the Nook is wining brain-share for it's open format (to how books can be loaded), with these models we're just created another micro-space environment to substitute for others (Apple iBooks, Kindle, etc).

As you can see, I'm not being entirely coherent because my brain just went all 'splody with the idea. It's not perfect, or even (IMHO) a full plan at this point. But I can feel a great solution lurking just below the surface. This beggars to have more thought put into it.


Eric said...

Steve, I think you may have missed the most obvious e-reader these could be used with, although it was featured in the Enthrill video: the iPad.

I can see how these cards might work as a niche product, like iTunes gift cards. I'm not seeing how they could be this Next Big Thing™ the Enthrill tries to make them into, and I pity the bookstore that tries to save itself with them (more plausible placements would be in supermarket checkout lines, tech chains like Best Buy and Apple Stores, drugstores and places like Dollar General). They might appeal as impulse purchases or appeal to tech-savviless grandmothers who want to buy someone a gift and remember that the intended recipient has one of those "i-Nooks you hold in your hand and watch books on." I think you hit on the big problem with these things already: contrary to what Enthrill says, buying e-books HAS been and IS more convenient, since every current generation e-reader has built-in bookstore access via wireless (side note: something like these cards would have been a better idea five years ago when that wasn't the case).

Maybe there's something else here that I'm missing. Could be. But honestly, I see these cards as another nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortars; don't you think one of these displays would cost nothing and generate a disproportionate profit stuck next to the register at a convenience store? Stick in a few bestsellers and the new Glenn Beck, Palin's latest and maybe something Inspirational? Thing pays for itself.

Steve Buchheit said...

Eric, oh, yeah, I think there's plenty of problems with the implementation as currently shown in the Enthrill video.

The way this is currently envisioned, it solves only one problem (indie book stores getting in on the ebook sale). And, except for the indie book store owner, I don't think it's that much of a problem. Are people shopping in indie bookstore really looking to buy ebooks from those stores? I don't think so.

However, there's a distribution issue that this could solve for promotions, sharing of books, reselling books, etc. Then again, it begs the question of if in the new ebook economy are these problems?

Elizabeth said...

I'm with Eric, though I didn't actually watch the video. To use this, I'd have to go to a bookstore, buy a card, go home, use my computer to go to the ebookstore, buy the book, and transfer it to my reader. (Minus a few steps if you have a reader that has wireless.)

Or I could skip the first two steps and save myself the gas money and hassle.

It does sound like a neat thing for promotion. Like at cons where they hand you a stack of books at registration. A stack of cards would be a lot lighter. And presumable cheaper than USB sticks, SD cards, or CDs with the ebooks already on them.

Eric said...

Elizabeth has a good thought re: promotion, and that kind of thing is an interesting idea. Then again, there's still a "solution in search of a problem" element even to that: I mean, if I'm promoting my book at a con and I want to hand out QR cards instead of hardcopies, I can already do that and with more variety of options than Enthrill is offering (e.g. here are business cards with the QR for when I'm walking around and here's a stack of glossy cards for a table and here are the posters I can stick on walls wherever).

But again, I'm not saying Enthrill doesn't have an idea here, I'm just saying it isn't an idea that's going to save bookstores and may even help kill them. These cards make a sort of sense as an impulse-purchase-item that takes up next-to-zero floor/rack space and has practically no overhead; it's kind of the book equivalent of a Redbox kiosk, almost. I can see Enthrill's products becoming ubiquitous in supermarkets, gas stations and airports as tablets/readers become more common; you're already there for something else, you see an interesting "cover", you pick it up and add it to the other stuff you have (maybe you even remember to scan the QR code when you get back in the car or return home).

Steve Buchheit said...

Elizabeth, yes, it would help with the whole "ZOMG, I gotta lug THIS" problem at cons (and other public spaces where book buying isn't the main focus). But then, that was also central to my idea of the QR codes.

(And here I'll take a moment to point to my friend, Dan, who does a lot of work with QR codes and gave me the religion)

When I get my book (any of the books) published, I had already worked out a few schemes for integrating those icons into the promotion.

And I don't think what Enthrill is doing is what this tech will ultimately end up being. There's something too close to "promotional" in that form factor that doesn't say "final product" to me.

Erich, yeah, I'm not seeing it as a "save the indies" technology, but something closer to "get passed the idea of books taking up too much 'valuable' real estate in stores-that-aren't-bookstores." I think I've mentioned how I've seen that the distribution model of books is what's really killing them off (or lowering sales, if you will). With this, a drug store could offer a hundred titles in the same footprint they use to sell books now (even more if you don't use the large format Enthrill is proposing).

However, the one big thing I'm thinking here is, this doesn't jive with how I shop for books (when I'm browsing). It does, however, fit perfectly with the philosophy of Wal-Mart et all of "We'll just offer the best sellers" (ie. books people have already determined to buy, before they step into the store).

But, there are simple work arounds. All of them (so far that I've worked through) require both a smart device and willingness to read on a screen.

Still thinking about it (but it's not my main focus). Somethings of a plan are jelling. Some pitfalls still remain.

I think Enthrill (or anybody looking to capitalize this idea) needs to look at it from the end user's perspective, and then work backwards to production. I think the middle (distribution and store) issues are pretty well worked out. The end sale and front production still need a lot of thinking.