Retailers are obviously concerned about the loss of traffic to online stores,” said Verne Kenny, president of Symtio, a division of HarperCollins that is enabling brick and mortar stores to sell digital books. “I thought, what could the consumer do inside a retail setting to buy digital content. Out of that grew the idea of Symtio.”

The concept: stores stock and sell Symtio cards, which are good for downloads of particular e-books or audiobooks from the Symtio site. Consumers can access the site only by entering the code from the card bought at a store, but once they're logged on, they can buy more books, and the purchases are credited back to the store where the card was bought, meaning retailers can make more sales following the sale of a single Symtio card. According to Kenny, “We tried to build a model that looks like what retailers are used to seeing in terms of a margin.”

Founded by Kenny, Symtio began as a project within HC's Zondervan division and was spun off at the end of 2008 into its own entity. HC began testing Symtio in Christian bookstores last July, and Kenny is very happy with the results. “We had over 450 retail locations sign up, and 25 content providers,” said Kenny. “Over 300 locations have gone live.” One concern of Kenny's—whether consumers would connect the card with buying digital content—was allayed when Symtio sold “thousands of products in the first 10 weeks.” Symtio started with only 200 titles from various Christian publishers, with 75% of those titles registering a sale. “Not only were people finding the bestsellers but they were browsing to find the backlist,” Kenny said. The HC catalogue has since been added to the Symtio list. Kenny said Symtio products will soon be available through multiple channels, anticipating being in the ABA market by the end of March, though he would not say where. Kenny also said Symtio is in talks at various stages with multiple content providers.