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February 28th, 2014

Are Books the New Vinyl (Or, Should Ebooks be Bundled with Printed Books)?

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by David Rogers

trout-mask-replica-vinyl-sound-and-the-fury-book

Perhaps surprisingly to many non-audiophiles, there has been something of a vinyl album resurgence in the past decade or so. And during much of that period vinyl lovers had to make a choice:

1. Buy the beloved vinyl LP and tether yourself to record player and home.
2. Buy the digital file and be free to move about the world with your new tunes.
3. Shell out a somewhat absurd amount of money for both.

Being something of a vinyl enthusiast myself, I was extremely excited to see a new trend begin emerging circa 2008: purchasing a vinyl record also entitled you to a digital download of the same album at no extra charge.

I got the best of both worlds when it came to the listening experiences, and it didn’t cost the band (or record label) any extra to include a digital copy.

Now the question arises as to whether books could (and/or should) follow a similar path.

Book & Ebook Bundles Coming Soon?

During a conference call yesterday, Barnes & Noble CEO Mike Huseby said the company is “actively considering and testing” ways to bundle print and digital books. The statement was part of a larger portion of the call concerning the recent decline in digital content sales for the company, according to PublishersWeekly.com.

The idea is exciting: you can curl up with a real, live, physical copy of your book in bed while you dog-ear the corners or sniff the pages or whatever you do. And you also get a copy for your Kindle (well, in B&N’s case, Nook) for your cross-country flight where space in your carry-on is a luxury.

Books and Vinyl Do Not Yet Share a Common Denominator

However, while there certainly is a parallel to be drawn between vinyl and books, the connection is not as strong as it may initially seem. The primary difference is that vinyl sales are still a very small, niche portion of the overall record industry while physical books remain top-sellers in the book industry.

In fact, LP sales account for only 2 percent of the overall music market (though vinyl sales rose 32 percent from 2012 to 2013), according to the New York Times. But seven out of 10 American adults still read a physical book last year while only 4 percent of readers only read ebooks.

Bring On the Bundles

Because of this, some might say that the physical book versus digital book is really a debate on nostalgia versus practicality, but I wouldn’t agree. I think that in many cases the advantages the digital world has provided us has enhanced our traditional habits rather than replaced them. 

Vinyl records are definitely one place where this is true because of the aforementioned advantages of including a digital copy with LPs, and I feel the same positives may exist for bundled ebooks and printed books. We all love our physical books and I don’t forsee that changing in the near future. But having the ability to take a digital copy on vacation or a business trip at no additional cost would be a great addition to the industry.

Image source: Flickr