Before I begin, a couple of quick announcements:
1). This Tuesday (September 24th) sees the release of four new Angry Robot paperbacks: Seven Forges by James A. Moore, All is Fair by Emma Newman, The Prince Thief by David Tallerman, and the Empire of Blood Omnibus by Gav Thorpe.
2). I just launched a brand-new WordPress book review blog at ReaderRaffle.net. Please check it out!
I will now take you from the present to July 2012. Angry Robot, a publisher known by few outside of its niche, piqued the interest of the mainstream industry when they announced their intentions to conduct a trial run of their Clonefiles initiative (I detail the elements of the program in this post). Angry Robot was not the very first company to experiment with print and digital bundling. In 2008, O’Reilly released 30 titles as DRM-free downloadable e-book bundles (where the e-book could be purchased for one dollar). Barnes and Noble flirted with the idea in 2010, and Algonquin Books announced their bundling intentions a few days after Angry Robot’s initial announcement. In another arena of print publishing, both DC Comics and Marvel Comics began to offer print/digital bundles on select titles in 2011.
Angry Robot’s initial announcement was notable for three reasons, the first being the complementary nature of the digital copy. DC, Marvel, and O’Reilly each charged customers an extra dollar for the bundled edition of that product (NOTE: Marvel technically offered a free digital copy with their $3.99 titles, but the $3.99 price was already inflated from the average price of $2.99). Barnes & Noble and Algonquin offered percentage-based discounts on their select digital titles. In this instance, Angry Robot appeared to be taking a note from the home video industry. Many DVD and Blu-Ray titles are packaged with a separate digital copy disk, and the cost of the digital copy is ostensibly rolled into the cover price of the movie (along with the bonus features disc).
Many on the consumer level applauded this element of Clonefiles: “If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered why the book industry has yet to catch up with the movie industry by including a digital file with each physical purchase…ladies and gents, at long last, that time is here” (via AllwaysUnmended, an author’s blog). Several industry pundits shared the opinion that bundling would ultimately be harmful to the industry. They believed that customers’ “perceived value” of e-books was already too low due to Amazon’s average price of $2.99 for their e-books). If customers began to believe that e-books were worth nothing, then the industry would be in serious financial trouble. Similarly, bundling would muddy up the current system that publishers use for paying authors’ royalties on digital titles.
The second important feature of Clonefiles was that each of the digital copies would be DRM-free. By and large, the inclusion of DRM with e-books is a standard practice of the publishing industry. DRM is seen by many publishers as the only way to protect their titles from IP theft and piracy. Others, including Angry Robot, believe that DRM limits creativity and forces consumers to purchase inferior products.
“We’ve always been champions of DRM-free eBook publishing and have always been eager to experiment with new business and distribution models,” writes Lee Harris of Angry Robot.
The most unique element of the 2012 announcement was Angry Robot’s intention to support independent booksellers (“indies”). My next post will analyze this element in greater depth, but I’ll summarize the situation here. Most that have in interest in the publishing industry have one of two opinions regarding the indies. If industry giants (such as Borders) are capable of collapse in this changing landscape, then the indies have no chance and should not receive resources from an already vulnerable industry. Those with opposing views believe that independent bookstores are truly irreplaceable establishments and, if there is an opportunity to save any of these stores, it should be taken.
Angry Robot falls decidedly into the latter group: “a dual-format offering for Indies seems like a natural extension of our customer-first ethos and a great way for Angry Robot to show our love for the UK’s fantastic Indie bookshop scene” (Angry Robot). They even titled their initial post announcing Clonefiles “Supporting Independent Booksellers,” illustrating the importance that AR puts into that element of the program.
While all of these elements of Clonefiles got pundits to raise their eyebrows, what forced them to really start talking happened three weeks later. In just two weeks of implementing Clonefiles, sales of Angry Robot titles at Mostly Books tripled. The program succeeded way beyond anyone’s expectations. For the first time since the idea of print/digital bundling was thrown around, the industry had quantifiable proof that bundling increased profits.
The publishing blogosphere ran to their computers to offer their commentary, speculating on what this success could mean for the future of the industry. For Angry Robot, it meant the full roll-out of Clonefiles a year later. For the rest of the industry, it might mean a lot more.