digital + physical

The title comes from Alan Reiter’s recent article, “Amazon Fosters Emergence of ‘Digital+Physical’ Sales”. I completely agree with the premise: there would be considerable utility in being able to access content in multiple forms even for a modest upcharge.

When Amazon first launched its Kindle, I put together a handful of thoughts on the idea. I also commented towards the end that bundling the digital and physical would be a powerful approach. This was two years ago and there hasn’t been much movement on this front.

It’s still true that you some texts are eligible for the Amazon Upgrade. This feature enables you to access electronic versions of the physical book you purchased for a small fee. Aside from expanding the number of books that are upgradable, it seems that this service is mostly forgotten. The idea was good but it fell short of being really useful. The problem, of course, is that you have to be online. Further, similar online services were launched, such as Safari, which provide online access to a lot of books, though they are typically technical. As well, Safari is subscription based (per-month or annual payment options) which might be less price competitive in the long run.  That said, if you belong to a University or corporation, it is possible the enterprise purchased a site license giving employees/students access.

The most obvious connection is to merge Amazon Upgrade with Kindle. Given the lack of information on the issue on Amazon’s site, that hasn’t happened and it doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
It would incredibly useful to have Kindle, online and physical access to content, especially for those of us in a technical or education field. Kindle certainly provides the most flexible access to content. However, neither the Kindle nor it’s larger sibling, Kindle DX, is the best format for all texts, especially high-resolution, color-dependent graphics. While book images and graphics are typically sufficient, the online environment can offer much greater resolution and even significant improvements in annotations (publisher, author or everyone generated). This includes inline errata which, for technically oriented books, could prove invaluable. (Ever tried learning a new programming language from a book with grave errors? Math texts with wrong answers or conclusions?) From an educator’s point of view, access to online content would enable graphics and passages to be clearly displayed in the classroom for discussion.

For the record, I don’t think the Kindle is key in this endeavor. Ultimately having online access to and third party storage of your media means less to personally manage and that is the attraction.

I do understand book/music/video publishers’ concerns about lost revenue: purchase a hard copy, get the digital access, sell the hard copy to a friend for a reduced rate. I have read more articles than I care to count identifying the need for these domains to develop a business model that meets the needs of the times but I have yet to see one suggested that really addresses the problems on both sides (comments welcome if you know of one). Maybe it just comes down to publishers taking a hit on their bottom line. I haven’t really thought this through.

In any event, as Reiter discusses, the opportunity is ripe for the change. Hopefully a solution, good for both producers and consumers, isn’t far from emerging.

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