Are people really ready for eBooks? My attempt to give away 100 of them

January 18, 2011, 9:53 am

Like many campuses we do a “one book” program every year. We purchase a ton of print copies, host a variety events, activities, and exhibits, and bring in the author for a public lecture. We also work with our local public library system and schools (including high schools) to push a common reading experience and dialogue around a thought-provoking interdisciplinary topic. (campus press release)


 Last week we kicked off our event by giving away 2,000+ plus print copies. In less than 3 hours we gave away 1,700 books. Before we started there were several hundred students (and some faculty) waiting in line. This is the fifth year of the program and it is great to see people get excited about receiving a book. I’ve enjoyed walking around campus and seeing those bright orange book covers everywhere I look.


This time around I wanted to dabble with something a little different and so we offered 100 eBook versions of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I figured this would be a good way to bring some new attention to the program and to also move our library further into the realm of digital books.


The Logistics

I called Random House and asked for any info they could provide about digital copies. They said that wasn’t their line of work (paraphrasing) and suggested I talk with Amazon.


The Amazon fortress is kind of hard to break, but I submitted an email describing what I wanted and expected to never hear back. But about a month later one of their sales reps called and things started to fall into place.


They agreed to push out copies of our campus book to students and faculty, but it had to be at least triple digits (100 copies) in order to make it feasible for them. (Worth there effort, so to speak.) And it had to be at list price $9.99. I was hoping to get a bulk rate deal, but I guess they are not there yet in terms of delivery.


In order to make this happen I needed to send Amazon an excel sheet with the individual’s email address associated with their Amazon account and either their Kindle serial number or the name of the device associated with their Kindle account (Brian’s iPad). So we hosted a giveaway, both online and in print format.


One of the advantageous things about Kindle books is that they can be read on numerous devices, including laptops and desktops, iPhone, iTouch, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android. And of course, Kindles.


We received some decent press and promotion, and many of the academic departments blasted out emails to their students. Our planning committee was a little worried that we would not reach 100 interested individuals, but that wasn’t a problem. Over the span of five weeks we had 165 people submit their info for our drawing: 18 faculty members, 33 campus staff, and the rest were students.


Of the 165 people, 22 of them were incomplete entries. I put those aside and then randomly selected 100 from the pool to send to Amazon.


Of the 100 winners, Amazon found that 35 of them were invalid. Many of them were “deregistered.” Long story short—I emailed the 35 invalid accounts and shared the info that Amazon provided. I gave them a deadline of two days to fix their account. 17 of them did. The remaining 18 copies were given to others who were not the initial winners. This was a bit of effort, especially with people emailing and asking when their book would arrive or what was wrong with their account.


My suggestion for Amazon

Amazon was great to work with. The Kindle Division was very patient with all my unusual questions. But some advice— looking ahead, it would be beneficial to offer edu and/or non-profit discounts for large orders related to campus reading programs.


Additionally, the Amazon registry system works so well, it seems like they could develop a tool for raffles or giveaways. It would be great for orgs to setup a page with whatever prizes they wanted to offer (via the Amazon catalog) and then invite people to enter their Amazon info (with a simple click) along with whatever else is required, such as a campus ID number, a response to a question, or other necessary information. This tool would make it an easy experience for both the user and the coordinator. Although this requires an Amazon account, it would offer a precise method for gathering correct information. If they could add a randomizing function to select winners, that would be a great enhancement too. And of course being able to pay via a campus p-card would make it a nice enclosed system. So in theory I could select a prize via Amazon, like a Kindle Reader, and then invite students to submit a response to a questionnaire or whatever, and then when they are done they can connect their info (separate from their response) to the giveaway. After a few weeks, when I close the process, Amazon will automatically generate my winner, notify them, and ship the prize, proving me with a receipt and whatever specialized data I asked from my participants.


We host several giveaways every year and so having a tool that could manage all these various components of the process would be an ideal time saver and just a more streamlined practice.



Thoughts on eBooks

Back to the topic at hand… eBooks.

We promoted the eBook copies fairly heavily and while I am happy that we were able to reach the 100 marker, I was surprised at how difficult it was to sign people up to take a free digital version of the book. With a campus of 18,000 students, 800 faculty, and 1,000+ staff I thought there would be greater demand than 165 people.


One thing I noticed via the demographics was that about one third of the student respondents were from engineering or computer science. I didn’t expect this, however, it doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps this indicates the population that is quickly embracing digital books?


The other aspect that stood out was the wide variety of devices entered into the drawing. There were about 30 Kindles in the bunch, but the rest were spread across other platforms (iPads, Androids, laptops, etc). Undoubtedly, many students are interested in receiving books on their phones.


I plan to conduct some follow-ups with the students and faculty who opted for the eBook versions and gather some insight into their experience. I’ll post anything that seems interesting. If you have something you want me to ask them, post it in the comments.


In closing, I want to share a snippet of an email I received from a student:


You know, when I first saw the Kindle book, I wanted to cry because I like the feeling of holding an actual book in my hands and seeing the words, even though the actual, physical book is far more than the words on the pages.


This probably sounds funny coming from someone with dyslexia who has to use audio books for everything she reads, but there is still something magical about actual books that seems to be missing from eBooks–in the same way that there is always something missing when I am listening to robot voice recordings of books.


In any case, thank you very much for helping me get the eBook.



Over the past year I’ve been thinking more and more about the future of libraries and particularly library collections. It’s inevitable that eBooks are going to be the primary format for general collections in the future. (I have a post related to that in the works—hopefully it will be out in the next two weeks.)


What strikes me about this patron’s comments (a young Gen Y-er) is the affinity to print despite her reliance on digital editions. I feel like a big part of my role over the next 30 years of library leadership is going to be directed toward helping this transition occur—providing patrons with experiences and opportunities to make the leap from the page to the device. But if I’m being honest then I have to admit that I feel like I am betraying them somehow—I’m definitely not in the “print is dead” camp, but if I’m going to buy into the “Education for the 21st Century” and the goal of “preparing students to compete in the global economy” than this is important. It is my our responsibly to ensure that they gain exposure and experience with digital content in all it’s various forms, including the long form (books).


We need students to gain comfort, confidence, and competence with digital literacy. While there are still a lot of issues (like licensing, costs, copyright, cataloging, discovery, and reader preferences) to be worked out, the bigger picture is that the future is digital and it is our job to prepare them for the information landscape. So I guess my giveaway is a bit subversive because my goal isn’t to get these 100 people to just read this one book, but rather, to trigger many additional purchases and hours spent reading many more books via their screen of choice. And beyond that, I want to give the impression to our campus community that the library endorses eBooks and that this is something they should explore as well


Related Post
I read my first ebook… all the way through


This entry was posted in FutureSpec, Marketing&Outreach, Web&Tech and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.