Round-Down: eBooks on the Go

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Two new partnerships with digital media distribution platforms are allowing publishers to make it even easier to get electronic books in the hands of travelers this month.

On May 6, Kobo, a Rakuten company, and Global Eagle Entertainment, Inc. launched a reading platform that will allow Southwest Airlines passengers to access, through their personal WiFi-enabled devices, a complimentary entertainment portal while onboard. This portal will be replete with full books and extended previews of top titles and new releases from major publishers such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and more.

Similarly, on May 15, Simon & Schuster announced a partnership with Foli, another digital-content mobile-distribution company that has specialized in providing hotels and airports with access to digital copies of leisure magazines. Together, the two companies will use geo-location technology to deliver a specific book, or collection of books, to a specific location. To kick off, Simon & Schuster is making available David McCullough’s highly anticipated biography The Wright Brothers available at the National Air and Space Museum, several airports, and the Wrightsville Memorial in North Carolina. It will make several bestsellers available at partnering hotels and airport lounges across the U.S.

Both digital delivery platforms will make the books available to customers only while they are at specific locations (while aboard the Southwest airlines flights, or for a total of three days at the locations Simon & Schuster has selected for their titles), and allow users the option to purchase the books if they are not finished with them by the time their flights or stays end.

According to a press release, Foli’s CEO, Henry He, said, “We are honored and extremely excited to partner with Simon & Schuster, a forward-thinking publisher that is skilled at leveraging new technology in the digital world to do what cannot be done in the print world.”

Echoing this excitement, Kobo’s President and Chief Content Officer Michael Tamblyn said, “Working with GEE allows us to take this passion for empowering readers to the skies, making a favorite in-flight pastime easier than ever.”

I admit that the only time I ever use the Kindle my grandparents gifted me a few years back is on vacations, when space is an issue. When I was younger, I used to frustrate my parents by routinely going over the suitcase weight allotment, insisting on brining as many books as pairs of underwear—even if there was no feasible way I could read every title before the trip’s end. When asked why, I would always say that I liked to be able to have a variety of books to choose from when on vacation—that I could never predict what I’d want to read on a given morning.

But, as nervous as I am around talk of e-books, these types of digital delivery systems aimed at travelers are sort of genius. Though I still prefer the feel of a paper book in my hand, the smell of its pulp, the whisper of its turning pages, I love the idea that I could have even easier access to a weightless, virtual library—especially while stuck on a plane. As patrons, we’re so used to the idea of complimentary in-flight TV shows and movies–some flights even have those weird pre-recorded DJs. It’s about time someone in the book biz decided to get in on this business opportunity.

The idea of capitalizing on place-based literature through Foli’s geo-location technology really appeals to the literary reader in me, too, even if the partnership currently seems to run into the danger of only making bestseller titles available to airports. I would love to see Simon & Schuster and Foli figure out a way to more directly and with more nuance pair places with titles. I love the idea of learning more about the place I am traveling to; these digital platforms could connect me more intimately and immediately to the literature of the space. That’s a kind of experience I could not plan for myself using print books—not when many airlines are now charging for checked baggage.

The only thing we’re going to need now are downloadable aspirin pills for all the screen headaches we’re liable to have while traveling. Though odds are that was already going to be the case–might as well be for a book as for Words With Friends.