BitLit Plans to Save the Bookstore with Print and Ebook Bundling
BitLit is a mobile app that allows readers to obtain free or discounted ebooks of printed works they already own. The company made headlines recently after partnering with HarperCollins to distribute a select number of its titles and is gradually bringing more publishers into the fold. Below co-founder and CEO Peter Hudson describes how bundling will not only bolster print and ebook sales but it may save the bookstore as well.
How does BitLit work?
To get the ebook version of a book you already own, you simply take a picture of the book's cover and then take a picture of your name clearly written in ink on the book's copyright page. You send that to us through the BitLit app and we use computer vision algorithms to verify the book and your name and then email you a download link to the ebook, which can be read on any device.
What problem are you solving?
Most of the discussion about print and digital has focused around one vs. the other. I think that debate is ill posed and misses the truth that books are different from other physical media carriers like CDs. If you think about it, when iTunes and the iPod arrived, we were all more than happy to get rid of our CDs and the wobbly Ikea racks that stored them because iTunes and the iPod gave you everything you had with a CD and more.
This is not the case with ebooks. Even if you don't re-read books, you likely don't throw them away when you're finished -- you put them on your shelf. We decorate our homes with books. At the same time, ebooks have things that print books don't have: you can scale up the fonts if you forgot your glasses, you can tap to get a word's definition, and you can carry all 900 pages of Cryptonomicon in your shoulder bag without developing scoliosis.
Both have advantages, and 96% of people who own ereaders are hybrid readers, sometimes reading print and sometimes reading digital. BitLit is providing a solution for those readers.
How did you come up with this idea?
The inspiration for BitLit came when I was out for dinner having a debate with a friend of mine. My friend said he had a book at home that would prove his point and wished he could get digital copies of all his paper books so that he'd always have them with him. At that moment we realized that we might be onto something.
What are the most important trends that you see in publishing today?
Two of the most important numbers in publishing are 26 and 11. When a customer walks into a traditional bookstore there is a 26% chance that they will purchase a book they didn't know about before the walked in. When a customer goes online there's an 11% chance they'll purchase a book they didn't know about before. If publishers understand the gravity of the difference between these two numbers I haven't seen enough of it.
Driving footfall back into bookstores is key to the future of publishing. I think bundling can play a big part in that. Those who are arguing about $14.99 vs. $9.99 ebook pricing might as well be the HMS Titanic Debate Society if they ignore the consequences of long tail title discoverability. I think bundling is the solution. Readers like print; readers like digital. Let's give readers more value and get them back into bookstores.
BitLit has run several pilot programs with bookstores to determine whether books marked with an "Includes FREE ebook" sticker sell better. The early results show that they sell almost twice as well as books that don't include a bundled ebook.
Who is your competition?
Amazon launched a program for Kindle called Matchbook that allows Kindle owners to get a Kindle ebook upgrade on select print purchases from Amazon.com. This is great validation of reader demand, but is likely designed to strengthen Kindle's monopoly position -- no other ebook vendor has a physical sales channel with 16 years of online billing records from which they could create a competing service.
Our biggest goal at this point is to increase the list of titles that are available. We've recently signed a pilot deal with HarperCollins. We're seeing great user uptake of bundling in technical books (e.g. O'Reilly) and sci-fi (e.g. Angry Robot), so those are areas where we're most keen to sign additional content.