Why Don’t Printed Books Come with DigitalCopies?

Alexander Telander wonders why printed books don’t come with ebook versions as well. After all, even the movie industry has seen the light on this,

Take for example the recent release of the movie Moonrise Kingdom. The special Blu-ray edition includes a copy of the movie in Blu-ray, a copy on regular DVD, a digital copy that can be downloaded with a code, and even an Ultraviolet copy allowing you to be able to access the movie in the cloud to stream and download onto tablets, smartphones, computers and TVs.

Of course both Digital Copy and Ultraviolet streaming are polluted by DRM. The license for the Ultraviolet copy only guarantees access for one year after purchase, and both options place severe limitations on which devices and under what conditions you can watch the movie.

Leaving that aside, at least the movie industry is paying some sort of lip service to the idea that when you buy a physical product you might also want a file or streaming option that should just come with the movie. Why don’t publishers do the same thing?

As Telander writes,

Included with each print copy of the book is a sealed code in the back of the book for a copy of the ebook version. When the customer gets home, he or she can choose to start reading the print book edition, or decide to leave it for a spouse or offspring or even a friend to enjoy. The customer then takes out the sealed code in the back of the book, goes to the directed publishing website and enters the code to download the ebook version of the book to his or her tablet, smartphone or ereading device of choice.

I’ve been arguing for years that publishers should do something like this, but for the most part the publishing industry seems to have been enthralled with the idea of blindly repeating the mistakes of the music and movie industries. There have been a number of small efforts among niche publishers to actually provide digital copies of books with printed books, overall the failure of the publishing industry to do so has been a huge mistake.

Why don’t they do this? Telander notes that a typical family is not going to buy multiple copies of a DVD or a book for everyone in the house who might be interested. Rather, a typical family is going to buy a copy of a book and then one person is going to read it and pass it on to the next person, etc. As Telander argues, even a DRMed ebook that let me buy Harry Potter once and let everyone in my household read it would probably be fairly popular; in the long run, it would likely increase book sales.

But that’s not how publishers tend to see it. Rather, when my wife shares her Harry Potter novels with my son, all publishers seem to see is a lost sale. Don’t forget that back in 2002, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers both attacked Amazon because of the retailer’s practice of linking consumers with sellers of used copies of a book from that book’s product page. The Authors Guild even asked authors to stop linking to Amazon.com from their websites.

Similarly, the Authors Guild in 2009 railed against the Amazon Kindle’s text-to-speech feature because it created a “derivative work” for which authors were not compensated for.

It is because of such stupid short-sightedness that we can’t have nice things like an digital copy with every printed book, but of course in a few seconds of search I can grab a torrent of every physical book I purchase.

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