Is There A Market For Selling E-books In Brick And Mortar Stores?


One of the beauties of buying content digitally is that you don’t have to schlep to the store to purchase it, right? Well, according to one startup that is pushing into digital books, what’s actually missing from the digital book-buying experience is more brick and mortar.

That theory might surprise a lot of people, particularly at a time when Borders is in bankruptcy and sales at Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) were up more than a third in the first quarter of this year. But a company called Enthrill has announced a plan to partner with bookstores to sell “physical” copies of e-books in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

“For decades, retailers and booksellers have become masters at merchandising products and books and driving consumer interest,” Enthrill announces in a video showcasing its technology. “Years of best practices in retail merchandising led to sales. It’s proven! Selling e-books through digital distribution alone is, in essence, trying to change an existing retail model that isn’t broken….We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Enthrill’s model will allow bookstore to sell physical cards with an image of the book’s cover on one side and a QR code (which provides access to extras like sample chapters and trailers) and download code on the other side. After consumers purchase the card, they go to Enthrill’s website and use their code to download the book as a PDF or EPUB file, which is readable on any device. If they then download other titles as well, those sales are credited back to the bookstore where the customer made his or her original purchase.

In Enthrill’s video, the company claims that its sales model “has never been done before.” In fact, Symtio, a program developed for HarperCollins’s religious imprint Zondervan in 2008, was very similar to Enthrill. LibreDigital bought Symtio’s e-commerce technology–including contacts and key staff–from HarperCollins in 2010, but did not buy its retail card program, which Zondervan was in negotiations to sell separately.

Kevin Franco, a co-founder of Enthrill, said that the company’s claim that this “has never been done before” was a reference only to the Canadian market, where the company is based. “Nowhere did we say that we invented it,” he added. He also said that the company has no connection with Symtio: “Symtio is not ours.”

Franco said that Enthrill already has some deals in place with both U.S. and Canadian publishers (he declined to offer their names) and said the company will initially roll out a test of the program in 125 to 150 mass retail and independent bookstores stores in Canada. The Enthrill video shows shots of popular titles like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and James Patterson’s Cross Fire, priced at $9.99. But a disclaimer notes that the titles are for illustrative purposes only. “Of course we’re going to use the best possible selling books in our illustration,” Franco says. “That does not reflect the selection that will be [in the store].”

Enthrill says one of its aims is to provide independent booksellers with a way sell ebooks. But Roxanne Coady, President of leading independent bookstore R.J. Julia, points out that the American Booksellers Association already allows member stores to sell Google (NSDQ: GOOG) eBooks from within their stores or on their websites.

Ultimately, Enthrill needs to convince consumers that buying an ebook in a physical book store actually makes their lives easier. Ebook sales don’t appear to need much help these days: This January, they were up 116 percent over 2010.


Fernando Montero

Brilliant idea. This could potentially save the indie bookstore, something many readers wish they could support but are too attracted to the value prop of an e-reader. This will bridge that conflict. Of course, Amazon and B&N controlling the distribution networks to their own e-readers will be a big big hurdle. Wish I could join the team to make this happen! Call me. Ha ha.

Kevin Franco

I appreciate all the comments on our retail system. What’s important to remember is there are thousands of retailers that know how to sell printed books and are good at it, but can’t participate in the selling of ebooks effectively, using their in-store skill-set. The Enthrill system allows retailers to leverage their existing merchandising skills and let’s them to take part in ebook sales without an investment in technology. The response from retailers and publishers has been overwhelming. We will be announcing the participating titles and the retail stores when we are closer to our launch.

Dave Gilbert

Great idea, especially the part about utilising the skills and knowledge of trained booksellers. It’s a pity that a similar scheme isn’t available in the U.K. We are already seeing large numbers on indie shops closing, with the consequent loss of experienced and committed staff.
For some years now we have tried to support the independent bookshop sector with a free e-commerce directory site , but with no central catalogue for e-books puchasing, it’s not as attractive to the public as it could be.
Many shops now rely heavily on author events to boost their turnover, and buyers love the idea of havingtheir books signed by the author. This is one way that e-books could also become ‘signed editions’!


 @twitter-252009437:disqus the video shows the titles priced at $9.99 and says that, price-wise, they bridge the gap between print and (digitally distributed) e-books. One problem with stocking physical inventory is that a bookstore still cannot hold as many titles as a digital store can. Enthrill notes in its video that a shelf that held 12 paperback titles can hold 90 of these Enthrill titles.

@milesgalliford:disqus I agree that this doesn’t seem a lot easier, esp. since they won’t have every book in stock.

@facebook-1388641886:disqus @kristacarnes:disqus One of the benefits that Kevin Franco mentioned to me is the ability to gift books. The idea of giving these out at author events is a good one. In 2008 HarperCollins used Symtio cards to distribute e-galleys at BEA.

easy reader

If you know what title you want then no. It’s not easier. But I and many people I know, never really know what they want to read and we purchase by browsing bookstores, online browsing is nearly impossible with so much content. I like physical browsing, skimming through books, but I read on an ereader, this to me is the missing link.

Again… you are thinking only about what your perception of ebook reader should be (someone that lives online, shops online and does everything online), not taking into consideration the shopping habits of many other people.

Krista Carnes

Much to Valerie’s point, one of the key issues the proliferation of ebooks has brought to light is the “discoverability” factor. It’s so challenging to browse via my Kindle store. Even the “similar books” or “customers who bought this…” aspects are not generated in a truly personalized way. Only certain books are configured to appear – at least that’s my understanding.

What excites me about Enthrill’s offering (and the doubtless others that will follow, I believe) is it allows a reader to gift a very specific title to someone – one of the joys of book reading – buying/passing on a copy to someone you know will really appreciate it. Yes, there are e-lending programs but they leave a lot to be desired in my opinion.

Also, as someone who’s business it is to find authors events and speaking engagements, these book-specific “cards” are a physical product an author can sell at an event or giveaway at will. One of my clients is a parenting author who’s latest book is out of print and only available as an e-book. She is often asked to present on the topic so it’s frustrating for her and the audiences who come to hear her speak and want to learn more about the issue and can’t do so in the moment. It has increasingly become the author’s responsibility to market their books and e-books are not going away. This type of product will help them bridge that gap for everyone’s benefit.


 I always want to support entrepreneurs trying new business models, but i really struggle to see how this improves the existing business model – downloading ebooks from online stores like Amazon – or disrupts an existing business model – physical books from a retail store. It appears to add complexity to both models? 

Valerie Douglas

As an indie author, one of the things that stores like Amazon lacks (and I’m on Kindle, so I love them) is a way to present books in the model of the print stores, especially just released books, or books by new authors. In other words, the ability to browse. In bookstores I can see many more titles and covers by authors I haven’t tried. I like Amazon’s model of posting similar books, but they can’t see that maybe today for a change I’d like to try a good steampunk. The ability to just look over covers, see something that interests me, pick it up, check it out, put it down…  I’m also e-book published through an on-line publisher and they often offer flats for promotion, sometimes with discounts. So, I can see the advantages. Not everyone wants to sit at their computers for hours. You could also still socialize, have book club meetings, etc.

easy reader

What people think that they themselves don’t need or want seem to always think that other people don’t want it? I browse book stores all the time, but I read on an ipad,  many times I write down what I want while in the bookstore, or try and remember and buy online. This ebook card is a great solution to my problem… I can browse the physical copy, but purchase an ebook right in the store before I forget. It’s not more complex in my view, it makes my life easier.

Steve waugha

I have some questions
about  eBook a couple things I’m reading in the post. What ebook in a physical book store? Thanks


Interesting thought. As a committed e-book customer I can confirm that the on-line purchasing experience still leaves a lot to be desired. Browsing through real books in a book store is a far more pleasurable experience. I could certainly see myself browsing through paper copes of a book in the store and then buying a electronic copy.

I don’t know how the store is going to make money though because the price of ebooks is surely going to fall through the floor in the near future. While selling ebooks will reduce inventory costs it won’t eliminate them because if a book store gets rid of its shelves of paper books there will be no reason to go in there.

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