Experimenting with Digital Delivery

The publishing landscape is changing quickly. We have seen the digital future coming for some time, but it is finally upon us. As a result, we are doing a lot of experimenting at Thomas Nelson, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

books flying through the air

Six weeks ago, we introduced NelsonFree. The basic idea is that if you buy the printed format of the book, we throw in the electronic and audio versions for free. We believe this program adds value without a lot of cost and would actually induce sales of the printed format of the book. It’s too early to tell if this will be the case, but the early indicators have been encouraging. We will be adding several more titles to this program in the months ahead.This week, we thought we would try delivering one of our daily devotional books via email—something we are calling an “e-devotional.” For 30 days we will send subscribers a daily, bite-sized portion of the book, so they can sample the content. We also want to test whether or not this is a viable way to access devotional content. In return, at the end of the 30-day period, we will ask them to fill out a brief, anonymous survey.

We are beginning with Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Honestly, I am not a big devotional book reader. But this book is now on my “must-reading” list. I rarely start a day without reading it. In fact, sometimes I cheat and read ahead the night before. I even keep a second copy in my office, so that I can re-read it if necessary. It’s truly an amazing book and currently one of our top sellers. After you read it, you will know why.

If you want to sign up for the experiment, you can do so here. Again, there is no obligation other than the survey. By participating, you will be helping us shape how we deliver books in the future.

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  • http://colinscroggins.com Colin Scroggins

    Personally, kinda waiting on the Kindle version of the Macarthur Study Bible…


    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That's a little more challenging. But we're working on it!

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com Lawrence W. Wilson

    I'm really excited about the "Nelson Free" concept. I really like each of these formats, and I hope more publishers will catch on to the idea that the "content" is the product–not the paper or e-file.

    I'm loving it … I hope it will payoff for publishers too.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think we have to distinguish between the two.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Throwing in the electronic and audio versions for free with a book purchase is a web 2.0 kind of idea – and one I am all in favor of. I would suggest that doing two editions of each book, one which is the book on its own and one which comes with access to the electronic and audio versions would be great. I would even pay an extra $2 or so to get all three versions.

    This is something that Open Source software does. The software is free but people are willing to pay when value is added.

    However, I would not pay more than a couple of dollars extra.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Oh, one more thing… I receive four or five daily devotionals for free already via email – and reading blogs gives me access to more.

    I'll take the survey at the end of the thirty days but, for me at least, I'm pretty sure that I will find the paper and ink version would be better for me.

    I want to have access to the electronic and audio versions of the books I own for the purpose of searching and revisiting them (I'd like the option to be able to copy sections for my blog too). For me, nothing will replace real books that I can curl up on the couch with!

  • http://readscott.com Scott

    I think there will always be a place for printed books, but I think they will be a luxury more than a commodity. They will become more and more beautiful, like they used to be a couple hundred years ago.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Some have used the candles and light bulb metaphor. Even though we use light bulbs to light 95% of our spaces, we still enjoy candles for their ambiance. I think books will be similar. The economics of digital publishing are just SO compelling, especially when you couple it with instant, online delivery. Books will always be around, but I don't think they will be the dominant content-delivery technology in 10 years.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/stephenbateman stephenbateman

        Those are hard words from a book publishing CEO. Does Thomas Nelson sell audio books through iTunes?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/John_Gallagher John_Gallagher

    From an operational perspective, I think publishers will need to get to more of an on-demand type of printing, thus reducing the wasteful inventory in the pipeline. I don' tknow the data on spontaneity of book purchases, but I have to believe the old theory of printing a BUNCH reduces cost must be challenged in this environment. Outside of that, I look forward to participating in shaping the future of the industry.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I agree. On-demand technology is already making an impact. I have seen some things that would blow your mind. Unfortunately, I am under a nondisclosure agreement, so I can't talk about them—yet.

      • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

        Dang it. Now I'm anxious to hear / see the "blow your mind" info on what's next! :)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JakeSchwein JakeSchwein

    I think the bundle concept is great! If one knew that they would get the audio and digital copy of the book. That would cause me to by that book. Talk about a way to get more people to move toward your product.

  • http://www.maclakeonline.com Mac_Lake

    Love the bundle concept. After reading a book there are many times I would love to have an audio version so I can go through it again in a different way.
    Is there any consideration to an option of purchasing chapters of a book instead of the complete book. Wouldn't work for all books, but there are some books I would love to buy a chapter or two from at a reduced price. Maybe crazy, but many times I go into BN and see a book I dont want to buy but there is some content in it I would love to have. Would be a nice option on the Kindle.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/daveanthold daveanthold

    I am loving digital content. Now that I have a Kindle, it is great to read all types of media on it & not have to lug books around, although I still love the hard copies. It was great to have the ability for different formats – that's how I read Collapse of Distinction. I started the hard copy & finished w/the audio version cause I was traveling. Thanks for branching out this way.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Perfect. That is the scenario that we envision. You should be able to change delivery formats in mid-stream.

  • http://www.macrichard.com Mac Richard

    Just received my new Kindle2 about 30 min. before seeing this post (via Twitter BTW). I think the candle/lightbulb analogy is spot on. As a pastor who reads a lot and enjoys it (not only for work), the ease of transporting, reading, searching, storing quotes w/ digital is right on the money for me. And, I love some of the coffee table books and others that digital could never replace.

  • Peter

    Michael, I like the idea you're trying out. I know that I'd love to have electronic versions of books I've bought. However, one of my biggest complaints about eBooks is their cost. Too often I see the cost of an eBook rival that of the hardcover when it's pretty obvious that the cost is nowhere near as much to the publisher/distributor. Yes you need servers, but you don't have to pay delivery, work out deals with stores, etc.
    Add in the fact that too many eBook publishers held their eBook prices at hardcover levels even when the paperback was out and it was just doomed to failure. Who's going to pay 3-5x the price of the currently going paperback to get an electronic copy?

    Personally, I'm not a Kindle fan, but that's because I have a very capable phone and don't want to shell out hundreds for a device dedicated to eBooks. As far as I can tell, the price still doesn't quite justify it to me.

    I'll be keeping an eye on the Nelson Free offerings. I like the concept and it might get a couple more sales to me because I see the value. Off to review those offerings now. :)

  • Mark Hatch

    I worked at a Fortune 500 paper-based company in the mid-90’s when MIT was just spinning eink out (the core technology in both readers). We discovered in our analysis of its impact that paper has four primary functions (though the etiology was different, an AT&T Labs researcher independently came to the same conclusion). The four functions are: Presentation, transportation, storage and functional. These functions are weighted differently depending on the application.

    I’ll get to what that means for Kindle in a moment. The next thing to remember is that paper is cheap. How cheap? Who in the world would guarantee the sale of their product and would take back 20% to 30% of everything they produce and sell… while paying for shipping both ways? And still have a business? Publishers.

    Paper is so cheap that one of the early experiments was (bizarrely) the opposite of the more intuitive Nelson offer. I.e. if you buy the virtual copy we will throw in the physical copy for a couple of extra bucks (strange at best). Frankly, I suspect we will settle on both. $15 gets you either the virtual or the physical and another $5 gets you both. The second version functions as a useful copy (useful in the application specific, functionally relevant way). The danger is in how the “grey” market establishes the prices of those copies and the cost and ease of transfer. I’ll finish with what to do about that.

    Back to the Kindle, I love it because its “storage and transportation” function are unparalleled. I struggle with its resolution and contrast. The last two turn out to be highly correlated with comprehension… and why many of your editors edit in hard copy first. (It would be useful to revisit the studies that showed that there were more errors in screen-edited texts than printed text.)

    From a business logic view point, here is the freebee (for what it is worth), you will want compelling reasons to not price the “copy” at or above the resell market value of a “used” book less the perceived or actual transaction costs. Yup, probably a few bucks. Compelling reasons might be brand, marketing, word of mouth, etc.

  • Jenifer Olson

    Hi Michael,

    I happen to be one of the participants in your study group receiving daily devotional emails, and while I've only received two so far, I LOVE them. That said, I think content is the single most compelling criterion for a successful email campaign, and 'Jesus Calling' is an exceptional opt-in for a Christian audience. I'm already finding myself looking forward to each day's selection.

    I do find it ironic a daily devotional book (especially one as lovely as this) is one I would actually want to buy as a hardcover – with or without digital formats – to treasure for years to come as I read and re-read the content and contemplate its meaning to my life at any point in time. In my mind, it's the perfect example of how to bundle print and digital publishing together for a value-added, customer-friendly package.

    However… I'm not sure most books will have the long-term shelf or tabletop appeal of 'Jesus Calling.' Right now I think consumers see Nelson Free as a win-win (they would need to buy the book anyway, so the addition of the e-book and audio is value-added). But in the not-too-distant future, I suspect many customers will decide they only want the e-copies or audio, and will want you to reduce the cost to match the – now less – perceived value. Then, we may be back full circle, trying to find a way to monetize the (now further diluted) value of digital publishing.

    [Unless, of course, the price is eventually elevated to include e-books and audio, then discounted back down to an industry-sustainable level after the 'elimination' of print. Hmmm… your thoughts on this?]

    Thanks, Michael

  • http://www.shessothere.com Sweetie

    One of the pulses I facilitate and work with in my world is evaluating content's accessibility for low vision and visually different folks, with the ever improving ability of screens to allow low vision readers to have the correct gauge print size they need for focus (as well as the ability to manipulate light levels on screens) this option to have free accessibility of current new books will be a HUGE hit with my clients who often have to wait years before a book is printed in a large print format! Yay for trying new things…for in my world of facilitating folks, it will open another avenue (albeit unintended) to share good things with those who usually have to wait for a book on tape, or a reader to read it for them!

  • http://true-small-caps.blogspot.com Derek

    I liked the sample chapter, but email delivery wouldn’t be good for me. It would just be one more email to deal with every day. When I’m reading, I like to get away from the computer and relax.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

    Count me in. I love this idea. I totally get it. What i don't get is how you actually got those books to fly:)

  • http://terripatrick.wordpress.com/ terri patrick

    I'd love to see an e-reader that's about the size of a trade paperback, opens like a book (no added cover needed) and will show two pages so I only have to flip once. It would be nice if the cost was under $200 and take all sorts of formats. E-book downloads should be in the $5 and under price range.

    This dream/vision is shared by many romance readers and booksellers – who generally read 3-5 books a week (or more!). We know the intent of publishers and the e-industry is to connect to new readers, but you might be surprised what could happen if the new e-formats were targeted to people who are already avid readers…

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com matt

    I think the Nelson free concept is okay, as long as it doesn't subtract anything from the book. I just built a new book case for the upstairs reading nook. I didn't build an e-reader case. E-readers do not have beautiful end-papers. They do not have heft. there is no paper to feel. They do not have gold embossed spines or silk place holders. There is no stitching. There are no comments or notes written by past owners. I took a small volume of Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" on an Army training exercise. It was read by a dozen men over the course of that three month field exercise. It needed no recharging. It never needed a change of batteries. I do not see e-readers as an improvement over the book. With the possible exception of some reference book applications, e-readers are a complete turn off to me. But even with reference books there is something beautiful about running a finger down a large page, say a page of Strong's exhaustive concordance. While moving my finger down a column I encounter, if only for a moment, a thousand entries that pique my imagination. Just think of an encyclopaedia. Who hasn't been pleasantly distracted by the entry on the platypus while looking up the article on Platonism? I think of how much joy will be lost for the sake of efficiency. It's like trading away sitting on front porches on warm evenings for the chill of the air conditioner.

  • Kris Nelson

    Thanks for the recommendation on "Jesus Calling." I have been looking for something like that to get me focused and on-track. It is amazing how some of the daily devotionals speak right to areas with which I am struggling and how my faith can come into play. Thanks!