Symtio: A Novel Way to Sell Digital Content

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A number of indie booksellers will soon be participating in Symtio, an innovative platform that allows customers to purchase e-books and audiobooks in stores and then download them anywhere there's an Internet connection. When consumers purchase books in the form of Symptio product cards (which look like book covers), the cards are activated at the register. Then, when customers are ready to download their books, they simply enter the code from the back of each card on the Symptio website, and the digital products download in their choice of format.

Chuck Robinson of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, who will begin testing Symtio in early October, told BTW, via e-mail: "I believe the visual representation of the books will attract customers' attention. Up until now, e-books have had no physical presence in bookstores.... We're expecting that we'll have a lot more conversations about e-books with customers because of the cards."

"We are eager to proceed," said Clark Kepler of Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park, California, via e-mail. "We feel that we are finally in the game with e-books. And, with Symtio's displays, we will be able to offer readers content and their choice of formats. While nobody knows how the reading public will respond to purchasing e-books in brick-and-mortar bookstores, we really like this program. There is no upfront investment for the product, and we believe it is the right first step for us."

The Symtio program began in October 2008 as a test of retail title cards in 124 Association for Christian Retail (CBA) stores (now up to 540 CBA stores), said Jeannette Zwart, vice president of sales, for HarperCollins Publishers, the platform's developer. "HarperCollins recognized its application in the ABA market, and Symtio started working with ABA and member stores in May 2009," she said via e-mail. "Symtio is evolving into a total digital solution for all booksellers that allows them to capture their share of the digital market, and keep a percent of digital sales in bricks-and-mortar stores. No one knows what the ultimate digital landscape will look like, but this allows independents a low-risk presence in that world."

Publishers currently participating in the program, which will soon offer music and movie downloads, include Random House, HarperCollins, Hyperion, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin.

Zwart added that, in January, Symtio "hopes to work with ABA on a complete integration with ABA's [IndieCommerce platform] to make it easier than ever for member booksellers to participate."

Symtio provides booksellers with an opportunity to sell to loyal customers who are looking to buy e-books and MP3 downloads for audiobooks, or to purchase e-books as gifts. "It supports [booksellers'] image in the community of responding to trends in the marketplace and reacting to their customers' needs," Zwart said. "Through the Symtio platform, bricks-and-mortar stores can capture, not only in-store sales of digital downloads through the patented title card delivery system, but they can also present their customers with thousands of additional downloads through that store's website."

Kepler noted that Symtio fits his bookstore's down-to-earth look. "We hope to be selling the Symtio e-books soon, this fall, and plan to cross merchandise them along with [other] book formats."

At Village Books, customers have already expressed interest in the Symtio program, which the store publicized in its fall newsletter. "I think that most folks have thought that e-books were limited to large online sellers," Robinson said. "I think this interest will increase as the cards provide the visual stimulus to conversations, and one can browse for e-books in the same way one browses for physical books. The presence of e-readers, which we'll have soon, should also increase awareness and interest."

For more information on Symtio, go to Booksellers interested in participating in the Symtio program should contact Betty Woodmancy, vice president of retail business development for Symtio, at is a short questionnaire that booksellers will need to complete in order for Symtio to accurately assess their in-store and online program requirements, fixture needs, and merchandise mix. --David Grogan