An American Editor

July 11, 2012

The Disappearing Book — A Boon for New Authors?

Thanks to Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader, I came upon a video, called “The Book That Can’t Wait”:

The essence of the video is that the publisher put together a pbook anthology of new author writings and gave it away (it was in a sealed bag to prevent air from getting at it). The catch was that the ink would disappear in 2 months leaving a blank book.

The idea is touted as a way to force people to read a book rather than simply add it to their To Be Read pile. I’m not sure how effective it is, as the ink doesn’t disappear until the seal wrapping is removed, which means I could add the book to my TBR pile and get to it 12 months later — as long as I didn’t break the wrapping.

But I find the idea of having the ink disappear in 2 months intriguing as a marketing tool. As with most tools, it is double-edged. Because the ink disappears, it is unlikely that readers will pay for the book, which means the publisher has to give it away for free. The other edge is that it is expensive to create such a book, only to give it away for free without assurances that it will actually be read in the immediate future or that if it is read, that the reader will like the contents enough (or some of the contents since this is being used as an anthological introduction to new authors) to buy books written by one or more of the profiled authors.

It also suffers from the marketing problem of being a pbook in what is fast becoming an ebook world.

The advantage to the disappearing ink is that a publisher knows that the book is unlikely to be “harvested” by readers simply because the book is free. This harvesting problem is becoming cause for concern as readers, myself included, grab free books and add them to an ever-growing TBR pile. My TBR pile currently has more books than I could read in 3 years of doing nothing but reading books 12 hours a day, yet I still add to the TBR pile because I don’t want to let bypass me a book that could lead me to a wonderful new reading experience. If it is in my TBR pile, there is a significantly greater likelihood that I will read the book than if I need to try to remember that I am interested in a particular book.

In a way, this is the problem with the publishing industry overall — both traditional and self-publishing — especially ebooks. Every day dozens of new titles are added to the catalogues and a good number of those new additions are books that I might want to read and so want to add to my TBR pile. Perhaps it is the problem of being overwhelmed with choice.

The gimmick of the disappearing ink certainly is an eyecatcher. I suspect that this would be a good way to entice me to set aside what is currently in my TBR pile to tackle the disappearing ink book. I know from past experience that if I find a new author who I like, I will buy the author’s books immediately on finishing the sampler book. In other words, the disappearing ink book could act as an effective method of moving books from the bottom of my TBR pile to the top.

This tactic was done with a pbook but a similar tactic could be done with ebooks. Put together a collection of books by different authors and give it a 60-day life from moment of download. Links could be included to each participating author’s other books, and if you buy a book from a participating author using an included link, you get both a code that extends the lifespan of the disappearing ebook by 30 days and a discount on the purchased ebook.

The biggest problem with this marketing idea is that ebooks that are offered for free are continuously offered for free and thus even if the ebook expires, it is easy enough to redownload. The primary incentive for reading the ebook now would be the link to an expiring discount on other books by the author. Yet, again, the fact that the ebook could be redownloaded tends to negate that advantage as well.

Do you have any ideas on how to adapt the idea of the disappearing ebook to a marketing strategy that could be successful? Or is this really just an idea that is best used for pbooks?

8 Comments »

  1. Perhaps this idea will tickle some people’s fancy, but I find it absurd and mildly offensive. Seems like just another clever way to dupe me into parting with my money while messing with my head.

    Since I don’t require an incentive to read a book, I can’t understand the problem trying to be solved. So it strikes me as game playing. The idea of being forced to read within a certain amount of time or ending up with blank pages is (to use a term from childhood) Indian giving. P-book or e-book, you’ve invested money and intent on a product, only to have it snatched away if you can’t get to it before the timer runs out. How mean!

    Like

    Comment by documania2 — July 11, 2012 @ 6:04 am | Reply

    • No, you wouldn’t invest any money in the disappearing book. The book was given away free. The idea was that there were limited quantities of the book available so you couldn’t just put it on your TBR pile and if the ink disappeared get another copy.

      Does the fact that it was given away free — so you would be out no money — make a difference in your opinion?

      Like

      Comment by americaneditor — July 11, 2012 @ 6:11 am | Reply

      • Oops, yes, I saw that bit about “free,” just forgot about it in my snarking.

        But no, free doesn’t make much difference IMO, because my own TBR list is plenty long, too; I see no value in wasting time, if not money, in playing games with a book when I have dozens (hundreds!) whose content *won’t* disappear and will be there when I want them, package opened or not.

        I suppose if you need an inducement to read, and you’re fond of gadgets and clever tricks, this could be appealing enough to make you crack a book open within a specified amount of time.

        No guarantee you’ll read or like it, of course; and no value to anyone else since you can’t pass it on to someone who might enjoy it — because it won’t be there any more. Also impossible for you to reread it yourself if you like it, as some of us are wont to do, revisiting a favored work from fresh perspective months or years later.

        Like

        Comment by documania2 — July 11, 2012 @ 6:55 am | Reply

  2. Rich,

    This one is still live:

    Like

    Comment by Nate — July 11, 2012 @ 6:28 am | Reply

    • Thanks for posting the vid, Nate. I like the idea of it but wonder about the novelty factor. But hey, after the ink fades, you still have a notebook.🙂

      Like

      Comment by Vicki — July 11, 2012 @ 7:22 am | Reply

  3. This harvesting problem is becoming cause for concern as readers, myself included, grab free books and add them to an ever-growing TBR pile. My TBR pile currently has more books than I could read in 3 years of doing nothing but reading books 12 hours a day, yet I still add to the TBR pile because I don’t want to let bypass me a book that could lead me to a wonderful new reading experience. If it is in my TBR pile, there is a significantly greater likelihood that I will read the book than if I need to try to remember that I am interested in a particular book.

    This is exactly my problem.

    No ideas off the top of my head, but I’ll keep thinking…

    Like

    Comment by Vicki — July 11, 2012 @ 7:18 am | Reply

  4. Let’s start with not calling books–that is, real books, an “artifact” that is a book, which is something real and tangible, a book It’s always been called a book, it’s still a book. The term “pbook” just sounds stupid.

    Like

    Comment by Mick Spillane — July 11, 2012 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  5. First off, as an ex-merchant,one never should give away what they should be selling.

    As a marketing ploy, however, if the fee was low enough people might buy an eBook with disappearing ink. This might work IF, rather than put just a time limit on it, when the book is finished it disappars, that might work.

    How this is done, I’m not sure because when would one say the book is finished — when the last page is finished? Would that be before or after the index or addenda?

    Or, could it be that when it is finished, one could pass it on for a fee that would be split in some way between the publisher and the author and then the book disappears? This might eliminate the use of DRM

    Rather than have a pile or downloads of TBR books, one would only have to keep a list of TBR eBooks when ready to read them.

    What, you may ask, if one wants to keep the book in a folder of ebooks? Well, if the price were low enough one could either buy it again or pay full bore for the eBook with DRM.

    Like

    Comment by Alan J. Zell, author of "Elements of Selling" — July 11, 2012 @ 10:29 pm | Reply


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