Books, Meet Vinyl (Please)


Fair warning:
I’ve been on my soapbox about the book industry since 2010. A recent shopping trip dredged up all my old rants. I think I’ll keep shouting until I get a call from a publishing giant wanting to hire me as a consultant to help with digital strategy.

Oh! Better make one more disclaimer:
I worked at Barnes & Noble for seven years. I loved working there (or I wouldn’t have stayed so long) and I still adore them. I write this out of love for books in printed form, and from a place of some knowledge about the industry.

Now for a bit of background:
In 2010, I made a conscious choice to rekindle my vinyl-collecting habit, after years of going the download-only route. I am just old enough that I had a tiny vinyl collection in the eighties. Thriller was the first album I recall having, but my sister and I also had gems from Tiffany, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam and more. In high school and college, I started collecting again, albeit sporadically, as indie rockers started releasing interesting stuff on vinyl. It wasn’t until 2010 when more and more releases bundled vinyl with a digital download that I amped up my collecting. I love the best of both worlds, what can I say? Having the collector’s item and superior listening experience of vinyl, while still being able to listen on my iPhone? Win-win.

I’ve been saying since then, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the publishing industry followed suit? If you bought a hardcover or a trade paperback and you got a digital download code as well?

Cut to the winter of 2014, to that recent shopping trip I mentioned. I spied this little sticker on a book at B&N:


Buy this book, get the eBook for $4.99

Okay, that’s a start… bundling the two. It’d be better if it was just bundled into the price, no separate purchase required. But progress is progress.

Then there’s the fine and even finer print. Uh oh. Things start to fall apart…

Limited-Time Offer
Valid in story only.

So, if I buy the book as a gift for someone, they can’t add the download later. I must choose right then and there, or lose the option altogether.

Here’s a chance to think bigger, beyond increasing the average ticket sale. The digital download shouldn’t be some few buck upsell, it should be a key part of the product that keeps people buying print. My fear is that this experiment with the add-on download option will fail, not because it’s a bad idea to bundle them, but because asking for a second purchase won’t jive with a world where free downloads are all around.

In the Neilson SoundScan 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report, overall music consumption, both sales and streaming, was down 3.3%, while vinyl sales were up 40.4%. For now, print books are still outselling digital books, but why wait for crisis? Could the book industry see similar hardcover sales percentage gains as vinyl, if the industry plans for the reader of the future? This is no time for heads in sand.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Rants & Raves. Get on your soapbox. What issue, idea, or stance were you vocal about this year? Or did you let it internally build up? Was there an event, person, or time that triggered your strong reaction? Or was it a slow-burn? Why do you feel so strongly – is it personal? Emotional? Strictly reasonable? Show us some passion – make your argument from the mountaintop!”