The other day I was on the bus from Cambridge to Oxford. The bus has wifi (on a good day), and when I got fed up with working, I downloaded free samples of a few books from the Apple app store to look through on my iPad.
I liked the book; I went back to the app Store. There it was, price £8.99 as an e-book. Or I could buy the paper book from Amazon, discounted to £6.59. Of course, I couldn't read the paper book on the bus, there and then. But I would have a paper book that I could flip through, swat flies with and lend to friends. So I ordered the paper book to be delivered for when I got home, and downloaded another free sample for the journey. And that has become my standard pattern. If a book has a sample as a free download, I'll look at it and then buy the paper book if I like the sample. Free downloads serve the purpose of browsing in a bookshop, and far better than Amazon's Look Inside feature ever did. I've actually bought more paper books over the last few weeks than I would have done without the iPad. The only problem for booksellers is that I've bought them all from Amazon. The problem for Apple is that I'm using the iPad to browse, then funding Kindle/Amazon rather than buying from the app store.
I know this might be a transitional behaviour. I might go over to reading more on the iPad (though not while the e-book costs more than the paper book), and other people might never do this but jump straight to reading only on screen. But it might last. I hope so.
I still believe an e-book should be given away with a paper book - if you buy a paper book on Amazon there should be a box to tick at the checkout to say you want to download the e-book immediately, or a unique code printed on the receipt if you buy a book in a shop that gives you 24 hours to download the free copy. That would be a way of keeping paper books at the forefront, and would cost practically nothing if there is already an e-book version. This is important because we need paper books. We need them not to help the publishing industry but for cultural and social reasons.
But I think the most important lesson for publishers is that a free sample in the app store or for Kindle is absolutely essential in promoting books to the book-buying customers who have an iPad and have the disposable income to buy books on impulse. If there is no free sample, I don't even consider the book unless it is something I know I want. And as for Wolf Hall, which I said I wasn't going to read - I've downloaded the free sample, so it's getting a chance.
Eighteen months ago I blogged on ABBA about the Sony e-book reader; a few weeks ago I blogged on Stroppy Author about writing a picture book app: Going digital - with 26 crows and a bucket.)
Anne Rooney www.annerooney.co.uk http://stroppyauthor.blogspot.com www.thrales.org