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Upgrade Your Print Books to Ebooks with BitLit

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BitLit has announced a pilot program with publisher HarperCollins in which owners of selected paper editions of HarperCollins books can purchase and download low-cost ebook versions of those titles. The cost of the ebooks ranges from $1.99 to $2.99. At the start, the program offers only six HarperCollins titles, but new books are planned to be added to the program, initially at one per week.

Obviously, this is a just a very small pilot program, but it’s an interesting development. HarperCollins is the first of the “Big Five” publishers (a group including Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster) to sign up for what BitLit calls its “ebook bundling” program — it’s really more of an ebook upgrade program.

The Big Five generally have been somewhat chary of engaging with ebook retailers and subscription services: though HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, for example, have partnered with the Oyster and Scribd subscription services, the deal is only for books in their backlists. Furthermore, none of the five are currently participating in Amazon’s new subscription-based Kindle Unlimited program (for more on that, see “FunBITS: Kindle Unlimited Is Pretty Limited,” 1 August 2014).

In any case, BitLit offers an unusual proposition that distinguishes it from subscription services: rather than providing an all-you-can-read book buffet for a monthly subscription price, BitLit targets readers who want ebook copies of books that they already own in paper. And, while it’s true that Amazon has created a program similar to BitLit’s, called Kindle MatchBook, MatchBook applies only to paper books that customers have purchased through Amazon. Kindle Matchbook is perhaps most attractive when buying a physical book as a gift; you can keep the ebook for yourself.

Unlike Kindle MatchBook, readers can get digital versions of their paper books regardless of where or when they originally purchased those books. The BitLit program works like this: you write your name on the copyright page of your paper book by hand and then take a photo of that page with the BitLit app on your smartphone (versions of the app exist for both iOS and Android). Once BitLit verifies your paper book, you receive an email with download links for the ebook.

BitLit (and to a lesser extent, Kindle MatchBook) raises an important question: Why would anyone want to buy a book that they already own? Is that a market worth pursuing?

As a likely member of that target market, I’m intrigued. I love my paper books, but I love my ebooks, too, and I can imagine wanting ebook versions of many titles that I own in paper — heck, I already have a fair number of such duplicates! Sometimes I got the duplicates to complete a book series that I owned half in paper and half digitally. But I’ve never done it for a series I owned completely in paper. If I could cheaply fill out my digital collection to include other series I own in paper, it would scratch a small, but very real itch for this bibliophile. It would also be nice to have ebook copies of those few paper books I return to regularly until their covers have begun to fall off.

The ebook upgrade idea makes some sense for publishers, too: the opportunity to sell the same book twice to the same customer, even if only for a fraction of the original retail price, is compelling. But it all depends on whether there are enough people like me to make it more than just a tiny niche market, served, if at all, only as an afterthought. For me, a successful ebook upgrade program would have to go deep into a publisher’s backlist, and cover a broad range of titles. I have no idea if that makes good business sense.

It’s early days yet. BitLit’s ebook upgrade concept is intriguing, and much more enticing to someone like me than “all you can read by no one you ever heard of” book subscription services like Kindle Unlimited. Can such a concept thrive? Maybe we’ll have a chance to find out if the BitLit pilot with HarperCollins expands significantly beyond the tiny handful of titles it currently offers.

 

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Comments about Upgrade Your Print Books to Ebooks with BitLit

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M. Perry  2014-07-25 12:17
The print version nice for many reading situations. The digital is great for looking up passages when you can remember some of the words.
Reply
Richard Rettke  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-07-25 14:01
It makes perfect sense. I am involved in a subscription program, a "Book of the month" so to speak (not novels but business related reading). I have found that I get much more out of my reading by reading, highlighting and taking notes in iBooks on the iPad or iPhone. It just works better for me, and, reviewing this material later is greatly facilitated by it being digital, I can review just the hi lighted sections, just the notes, etc.

I do also have an extensive collection of physical books, a fairly significant library, and I would like to continue that as well. So when I get a new book (physical), the first thing I do is purchase the digital version if available. Conversely, if the book was delivered as an ebook, I would look to purchase the physical book as well.

Part of me is saying, "well , if we ever get hit by a giant CME from the Sun and all power and electronics are destroyed, I can still read the physical books", another part of me says, "ebooks just don't look to impressive an the bookshelf".
Reply
Bignose  2014-07-26 00:49
As an old git, I could never believe that an ebook would be an "upgrade" from ownership of a physical book :o)
Reply
Chris Kohuch  2014-07-26 12:04
Well it's not like they are asking you to 'turn in' your hard copy :-)

I have several large books that it would be convenient to have digital versions for when I travel. My iPad is a much more convenient carry on than a half dozen hard covers.
Reply
Michael Lever  2014-07-28 23:51
What's to stop someone that has the print book already simply scanning the pages to pdf and up-loading the file to their portable device?
Reply
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-07-28 23:53
Not a thing. Except that it is very labor-intensive, and if you want the text to be searchable, you have a LOT of proofreading to do. Also, to get a good scan, you usually have to cut the pages out of the binding, thus destroying the print book.
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better yet, just grab the free epub version from the web, and skip all the hassle.
Reply
Kendall  2014-08-02 22:45
I'm intrigued. I've bought a couple of ebooks that I already owned in print, because I'd had the books for years and read them multiple times--loved them--and wanted to read them on my iPad. I dislike the thought of writing in novels I own (GASP!), but I'll have to give it some thought.

Sadly, one book I'd like an ebook of (I own a print copy), so I can re-read it on my iPad . . . doesn't have an ebook version out. It's pretty deep backlist and probably won't get an ebook version.
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¿¿¿¿¿ ¿¿¿¿¿  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-08-11 18:44
I'm interested, too. But starting with only five titles sounds like a bit of a joke. They obviously are not confident it makes business sense, so they're starting small, which means it won't be very useful, which means it will probably never make business sense. A bit like Apple's approach to servers…
Reply
Duane Williams  2014-08-12 12:00
This will make it important to examine the copyright page of any book you intend to buy in a bookstore, to make sure that no one has written their name on it and photocopied it in the store.
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Peter U  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-08-12 13:02
Kindle --> pdf

I just bought my first Kindle eBook a few weeks ago and to my surprise, AFTER the purchase, I was offered to buy the pdf for a few extra bucks. I happily did so because I am still uncomfortable with Amazon's DRM so I prefer pdfs. Ironically, the Kindle version + pdf combo was cheaper than the pdf from the original publisher (Que) in the first place (if I remember correctly).
Reply
Michael E. Cohen  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-08-12 17:55
Peter, write to me directly; I may have a helpful suggestion for you, and I also want to ask you more about the PDF deal with Kindle you mentioned, since I haven't seen that before.
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