Bill Bryson urges e-book bundle tie-up

By Ian Youngs
Arts reporter, BBC News

image captionBill Bryson said buying e-books made him feel guilty because he was not supporting bookshops

Author Bill Bryson has called on publishers to give away e-books when people buy the printed versions in order to boost sales of physical books.

The travel writer said he resented being "forced" to choose digital books over print because e-books were more convenient to take on the road.

"It would be such a terrible thing to lose physical books," he told BBC News.

"That's the direction we're heading in because publishers are not responding as effectively as they ought to."

The "solution to the industry's malaise" is to give buyers a free download code when they buy a printed book, he said.

His comments come weeks after Amazon announced a plan to offer buyers of printed books in the US a free or discounted digital version. Similar schemes have been rolled out for magazines and music.

"If they [publishers] don't move to that really quickly people will be forced to take the digital version whether they really want to or not," Bryson said.

"Somebody gave me a digital reader as a gift last spring and I now find that when I'm travelling I take digital books with me.

"I'd like to possess both versions but I'm forced by the book world to choose one or the other, and sometimes I'm being forced to take digital books.

"I've nothing against digital books but I want both. I'm being forced to make the choice and I feel that by buying a digital book I'm not supporting a bookshop, I'm not supporting the physical book and that makes me feel guilty.

"I'm being forced into that and I kind of resent it."

Bryson was speaking at the Booksellers Association conference ahead of the publication of his latest book, One Summer: America 1927.

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said some companies had looked into bundling e-books with physical sales. "But it is important not to underestimate the enormous technical and commercial challenges behind what may appear to be a straightforward idea," he said.

Publishers are "leading the way in providing books in the format that consumers want to read them", he said, adding that "the physical book is going to remain a prominent feature in the market for a considerable time to come".

"The option between the wonderful mass portability of e-books, or the inimitable presence and feel of a physical book is an important choice, and one which readers are currently happy to make according to their needs."

Earlier this month, Amazon announced its MatchBook scheme, which will offer digital copies of 10,000 titles when they are bought in print. Some will be free, while others will cost up to $2.99 (£1.92).

At that time, independent book industry commentator Neill Denny told the BBC the scheme may help the print industry "because by bundling the content it locks the analogue to the successful digital model in a way that publishers have been struggling to find".

However, Philip Jones, editor of trade publication the Bookseller magazine, was sceptical about whether book-lovers would actually want both versions.

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