Booksellers attending the Canadian Booksellers Association's National Conference in Toronto, May 13–15, were introduced to innovations from two Canadian companies designed to help bricks-and-mortar stores sell e-books. Transcontinental Printing demonstrated its e-book distribution system, which would enable retailers to sell e-books from their own Web sites. Enthrill Entertainment previewed a system of cards that retailers could use to display and sell e-books in their stores.
Transcontinental, headquartered in Quebec, and the largest printer in Canada, partnered with DeMarque, who designed and powers the digital warehouse that has already been used by publishers and retailers in Quebec, France, and Italy for a couple of years. Jacques Gregoire, senior v-p of the magazine, book, and catalogue group, says Transcontinental's goal "is to simplify the process for publishers of all sizes—to use only one uploaded file for all forms of the book, which they can pull from one location for all transactions." Once publishers sign with Transcontinental, they provide their book files and metadata. Publishers pay a transaction fee of 10% of list price and retailers receive 25% to 40%. The publisher sets the page previews, file formats, file security, and price, and then makes agreements with online bookstores, which can be customized within the online system to provide access to the books. This allows bookstores to sell the e-book from their own Web sites while it is still stored in the digital warehouse.
"Publishers of all sizes set the price points for their titles over a neutral platform—and they are not required to adhere to the big player dynamics; they have choice and control," says Gregoire. "Publishers can sell their titles from their Web site, link to international retailers, and control their pricing model and strategy, plus capitalize on unique reporting and analysis," he says. Now available in Canada, Transcontinental will launch the service in the U.S. at BEA.
Enthrill Entertainment, based in Calgary, approaches the question of how to help bricks-and-mortar stores sell e-books from a different direction. Although the official launch of the product is about six weeks away, cofounder Kevin Franco was at the CBA conference to present the company's idea of selling e-books using cards that replicate the book's cover and contain an access code that allows the buyer to download a copy of the book to the device of his or her choice immediately and pay for it right in the store. Franco pitched the cards as the tangible element of e-books that has been missing but needed to allow bookstores to participate in e-book sales.
Enthrill wants its e-book cards to "look like the book in every sense except the thickness. They are much thinner and easier to ship." Booksellers at the conference quickly picked up on the potential for the cards to make giving an e-book as a gift more attractive.
The concept is that after buying a card, a customer is directed to the company's Web site. The customer then scratches the card to reveal the code for the book, enters the code along with his or her e-mail address, and hits the redeem button. The system confirms the title and asks the consumer to pick a device.
Enthrill's plan is to make the cards available with titles from publishers in the U.S. and Canada (nine are participating so far) in 125 to 150 stores this summer. A limited number of titles from a broad spectrum of genres such as fiction, nonfiction, travel, humor, and cooking will be used as tests to see what sells in retail locations before the product is rolled out in a bigger way.
That approach may help Enthrill succeed where others have not, most notably the Zondervan/HarperCollins Symtio card that was discontinued last year after a two-year trial. Franco says Enthrill became aware of Symtio after developing its cards to the presentation stage, but he hopes Enthrill's timing will help it succeed. "Our program is hitting the market at a point when e-book sales are beginning to tip the scales in a noticeable way. More people have e-reading devices than ever, and Canadian booksellers are hungry for a system to allow them to participate," he says. Franco doesn't expect the cards to divert business from the big e-book players. "If you are buying books through the Kindle store, we're not taking those customers," he says. But he hopes the cards will be an important opportunity for physical bookstores. "We're giving retailers a way to sell e-books, utilizing the very skills that they have, which is the knowledge of books, the ability to merchandise and introduce books to their customers."
Marilyn Healey, who traveled to the CBA conference from Iqaluit, Nunavut, saw another potential in the Enthrill cards in her store. Arctic Ventures is a specialty store selling books on the Arctic and Inuit culture that serves tourists and the community at large. It's the only bookstore in Iqaluit. "I've never had room to set up space for bestsellers and that could mean a real change for us," she muses. "Books like Harry Potter... any major seller, I could have access and have it right on the counter."