Why Barnes & Noble's James Patterson Exclusive Is Important

Alex Cross

Barnes & Noble’s new holiday promotion–buy two James Patterson books, get a novella free–is good news for Patterson fans. More significantly, Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) could use the technology behind this in-store promotion to bundle print books with e-books in the future. And it’s an instance where Barnes & Noble’s good author relations benefit it over Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). 5:15 PM: This post is updated with more info from Barnes & Noble.

When customers visit a physical Barnes & Noble store and purchase Patterson’s Kill Alex Cross in hardcover, plus any other Patterson title for children or adults in any format, they will receive a Patterson novella, Merry Christmas, Alex Cross–exclusive to Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble’s press release explains how the package will work: the company’s “state-of-the art cashiering system will allow retail customers to seamlessly combine a Nook Book purchase with the purchase of the new hardcover title in-store, and leave with the authorization codes to download their digital purchase, as well as the digital version of the free, exclusive novella on any of their Nook devices.”

The promotion is only available in Barnes & Noble retail stores, not online. Merry Christmas, Alex Cross will not be available for purchase as a standalone e-book or print book.

Here’s why this deal is important:

»  Barnes & Noble is using its physical stores to facilitate online transactions. According to the press release, the company is changing its in-store cashiering system to make it easier for customers to purchase e-books and print books simultaneously. In the Patterson promotion, we see that a customer who chooses a Patterson e-book as their second book can purchase both in the store in one transaction, then go home with a code to download the e-book (and the free novella). I can imagine a time when that e-book could be wirelessly transmitted to the customer’s Nook at the time of the in-store purchase, cutting out that at-home step.

»  Barnes & Noble has an exclusive with one of the most popular (and the #1 highest-paid) fiction authors in the United States. Patterson is also recording ads for Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet. Amazon does not have a similar promotional deal with any high-profile, traditionally published author. We’ve seen Barnes & Noble retaliate against Amazon for getting an exclusive for DC Entertainment e-books and we’ve heard William Lynch say B&N won’t carry books in its stores if it can’t also sell them as e-books. Now, instead of just reacting, Barnes & Noble is launching an exclusive of its own, one that will excite a lot of readers. Barnes & Noble did not answer my questions about who is considered the publisher of the book (James Patterson, Patterson’s traditional publisher Little Brown, or Barnes & Noble) and did not disclose how the financial arrangement is working (whether Patterson is donating the work, receiving a flat fee or receiving some kind of royalty based on the number of bundles sold).

Updated: A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman tells me that Little, Brown is the book’s publisher and is mentioned on the book’s spine and copyright page, but Barnes & Noble is handling the production for the physical book. In addition, Barnes & Noble says no royalties or fees are associated with the promotion. Hachette Book Group (which owns Little, Brown) said in a statement, “When Barnes and Noble, the largest chain book store in the country, came to James with this idea, it was clear that they were the uniquely positioned to make this concept work. Hachette Book Group is also happy that this promotion features James Patterson’s #1-bestselling young adult fiction series, Witch & Wizard, and that Barnes & Noble continues to champion kids’ books. James Patterson is looking forward to working with any account — big or small — on other innovative retail concepts to help promote his books for readers of all ages.”

»  The stores and hardcover book are a key component of the deal. The novella is available as an e-book, but it’s also available as a print book. It’s only available through B&N retail stores and one of the books purchased has to be a hardcover. It will be interesting to see how Barnes & Noble continues to carry out this physical-plus-digital strategy.

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