Yesterday Amazon announced its new program, AutoRip. Now on Amazon, when you buy a audio CD, Amazon will instantly make an MP3 version of the album available to you for free. Amazon even retroactively applied this service to the past 15 years worth of music purchases. Needless to say, I was very pleased with this new benefit. Though I buy music at Amazon, I’m really a book person, and this new development brought one of my long-standing wishes to mind. I wish book publishers would learn from the music industry.
The music industry had it rough back at the beginning of the digital revolution. Sony originally scoffed at the MP3 because the sound quality wasn’t as good as a CD. Much to their surprise, no one cared. After the scoffing came the fear. MP3s were too easy to copy. Piracy would ruin the record labels. Piracy would kill music. Piracy hurts everyone. Well, it turns out that piracy was actually a symptom of the music industry’s reluctance to change. Eventually the music industry stopped fighting against the demands of consumers, and when they decided to deliver music in the manner consumers want, their profits soared.
For the last few years, many small labels and independent artists have sold vinyl albums with a free MP3 download. They know that fans want the convenience of the MP3 but that they also have a sentimental longing to see and touch a physical copy of the music they love. Often times fans are willing to pay a couple of bucks more for a bundled copy. Amazon’s AutoRip takes this bundling to the next step. Happy customers are customers who spend money.
The book publishers should be looking at the mistakes of the record labels, but they don’t seem to be learning the right lessons. Instead of giving consumers what they want, publishers are still running their businesses on fear. Look at the mess that they got into with their “agency model.” They tried to fix the price of e-books because they were afraid of Amazon, and the Department of Justice gave them a slap.
Everyone should be afraid of Amazon, but you don’t compete with Amazon by hurting your customers. Remember, happy customers are customers who spend money. Book publishers must remove obstacles to reading, but until recently they seemed to be inventing them.
So here’s my heartfelt wish. Dear publishers, I want book bundles. From now on, when I buy a book, I want both a physical copy and a digital copy. You need to learn what the music industry learned. You’re not selling copies; you’re selling content. Give me the content in multiple ways, and I’ll be a happy customer. I’d even be willing to pay a couple of extra dollars for the bundle. That’s a couple of extra dollars of pure profit for you. I know this is coming. You can’t stand against consumer demand. Enough of us want this, so you might as well give it to us now. Don’t make us wait ten years.