Coming soon to a store near you, a ‘physical’ virtual book by John Barber
If there’s one thing the booming market for electronic books needs, according to Kevin Franco, co-founder of Calgary-based e-book start-up Enthrill, it’s “physical product” – something customers can get their hands on and take to the checkout counter at their favourite Bricks & Mortar. And no, he insists, he’s not also proposing to put the horse back into the horseless carriage.
Introduced to the public in a “soft launch” at the recent annual convention of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Enthrill aims to bridge the divide between the paper and virtual worlds by distributing books in the form of coded display cards that can be picked off ordinary retail racks and, once activated by purchase, used to download electronic versions of the books they depict.
Although it may appear to run against the tide, the idea offers a neat answer to one of the most difficult questions facing publishers as they make the switch from the old medium to the new: how to replicate the proven marketing power of a well-stocked, invitingly browsable B&M in a digital store with postage-stamp images and no room for surprises?
Enthrill’s answer: Just don’t.
Digital publishers would be foolish to ignore the expertise of traditional retailers, according to Franco. “The most important thing about this whole project is that it allows retailers to take part in the environment where they do what they do best, which is merchandising and getting people interested in products,” he said in an interview.
“This is not going to be the only solution for booksellers,” he added, “but it’s going to be the best tangible solution.”
Currently, the best hope for traditional retailers who find themselves cut out of the booming digital market is Internet giant Google, which is encouraging them to include virtual branches of its new online bookstore on their own websites and thereby earn a share of digital sales made there. But the service is still unavailable in Canada and is clearly not designed to encourage the foot traffic traditional retailers depend on.