Selling Books By The Chapter
When Charles Dickens was writing his serialized novels, crowds used to gather at the docks in New York whenever a new chapter was due to arrive by boat. Today, Random House, the world’s largest publisher, has brought the practice back in electronic form, starting with the business communications bestseller ‘Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.’ Each chapter of the book, which had a hardcover print run of more than 200,000 copies, costs USD 2.99 and can be downloaded as an Adobe Digital Editions file, a format that is itself readable via a free download from Adobe.
Random House, a US subsidiary of German media giant Bertelsmann, explained that the chapter-by-chapter sale was intended for those who only need to glean one or two lessons from a book. The Wall Street Journal noted that the experiment follows the music industry’s success selling songs individually, and that it’s an attempt by the company to discover how modern consumers might want to receive publishing information, particularly at a time when cell phones, PDAs and other digital devices such as Amazon’s Kindle make it easier for them to read electronic documents anywhere and everywhere.
Other publishers have launched similar experiments with downloadable chapters. In January, for example, Springwise looked at DailyLit, which makes classic texts available free via email and RSS, and modern texts at prices roughly in line with those of paperbacks. Indeed, that relatively low-tech approach could be easily emulated by book-publishing entrepreneurs. Choosing the right content will be key, of course. And while the chapter-by-chapter niche might seem best suited to business books, irresistible fictional stories or tales or real-life scandal and intrigue might also become piecemeal best sellers of the future, bringing together crowds of readers, just as Dickens once did on those New York City docks.
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