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Bookshops of the Future: Where Physical and Digital Co-exist.

Charlotte Quickenden, MD of Bow Software, on their physi-digi bookmarks and supporting sustainable business models for bookshops.

I want high-street bookshops to be part of our future landscape. Unique spaces, modern or poky but preferably with a battered sofa in the corner. A place where you can find local or specialist books, where you can talk to a fellow book worm and choose a book by running your finger down a row, by the manager’s pick or – heaven forbid- by its cover.

However if ebooks now account for 25%[i] of all book sales and the other 75% is dominated by the online wholesale giants, brick and mortar bookshops (chain or independent) need to adapt to a changing market place.

This is problematic if you don’t have a platform to sell ebooks or are stuck at the bottom of a hierarchical supply chain. What if, however, your independent highstreet book shop could sell an ebook alongside their ‘real’ books? What if that ebook was downloaded direct from the publisher and didn’t pass through Google/Windows/ iOS/ Amazon pricing gateway? Well this is the thinking behind the PhysiDigi Bookmark.

What did you say? A thingamajig ? What’s that?

PhysiDigi is a physical digital thing. A PhysiDigi Bookmark is a physical form which acts as a digital trigger to download an ebook. A PhysiDigi Bookmark has value, the value of the ebook that it opens for you to read. Therefore if you want to buy it, you purchase the ebook just as you would any other book by exchanging money with the vendor (be that bookshop, venue or exhibition). The ebook is then yours. You own it, this is not an ebook lease controlled by DRM. If it’s a good ebook you can lend it, or, if it was a present you can wrap it and gift it. This physical digital thing is tactile,it has visual appeal, and through the act of acquiring it you will naturally have a closer connection to it than a box that you tapped ‘install’.

We believe the ‘story’ trumps mechanics but for the curious readers out there, the PhysiDigi Bookmark contains an NFC tag which when placed within a range of an NFC enabled tablet/ smartphone/ ereader recognises the purchase and triggers a discrete (format agnostic) download. Downloads are reliant on wi-fi  and an NFC enabled device,  which currently slims the market to Windows and Android OS devices. However with Android and Apple effectively flipping market shares in a year (iPad sales retracting to 17m with Android sales surging from 10.7m to 28.2 m[ii]), and with the ‘will they/ won’t they’ (Apple) debate still hanging in the air innovation can’t be constrained because it has no crystal ball.

The Physi Digi Bookmark isn’t saying we should all read ebooks as they are the future (lighter, cheaper, smaller, accessible, blah, blah). It recognises that some people prefer digital and some people prefer physical. It’s common sense that just as reading preferences vary, so does the environment, the material and the time of day affect the way we like to read. Rather than debating which is superior we should be looking at ways to remove the divide and promote them both for their individual superiority. For me the question is how can we help book forms co-exist sustainably.

The PhysiDigi bookmark sidesteps the gatekeeper giants –  publishers and authors can publish e-books on their own platforms AND the bookshop becomes…their shop window. Which is really handy because this is exactly what bookshops know how to do, heck their recommendations may even be more credible than ‘5 stars’ or ‘staff picks’. Looking at it from the other perspective the bookshop no longer has only 75 % of the market to sell to and they can now sell both paper books and ebooks. Consider the emotive connection to a physical purchase versus an ebook download, it is likely that the percentage of ‘ebooks sold to read’ conversion will be higher, and as a book that has been read is way more likely to get recommended than a book that hasn’t …you get the picture….self-fuelling sustainability.

PhysiDigi bookmarks are still in their infancy, developed in response to a problem of how we could help promote a digital biography in a crowded app market place, the idea was that venues and bookshops were an overlooked additional route to the digital marketplace. The concept has been encouraged thanks to some financial support from inet (more info on our blog)  and in November will be one of 40 innovative products exhibiting at Venturefest, Bristol.  PhysiDigi development is now showing that as well as being an additional route to market for digital products, it also has the potential to help the highstreet sell digital too. If publishing in a physical digital way sounds interesting we would love to hear from you – please drop me a line at [email protected]

As for me, I’m a digital producer of creative ideas and the managing director of Bow Software Ltd. My waking day is encased in a plethora of tech; 24inch dual monitors, a macbook, 10 inch and a 7inch tablet and of course my ‘smartphone’ is surgically attached at all times. Reading e-books and absorbing digital content is my vocation. Filling bookshelves, cluttering up the coffee table and the stairs, with a riot of colour from books of different shapes and sizes is a passion.

Here’s a short clip of Charlotte  talking about NFC – or PhysiDigi – Bookmarks, extracted from the REACT ‘Digitising the Dollar Princess’ filmed at Crediton Community Bookshop and the University of Exeter:


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