Amazon announced an interesting and important program this week called Matchbook. This program allows customers who purchase some physical books to also download a Kindle Edition version of that book at a discount, or for free.
This is the sort of thing I have long wanted physical book stores to offer to remain relevant in the emerging age of ebooks. In the hands of Amazon, it will only serve to hasten the end of physical books stores, but it could help jumpstart the practice and turn it into an industry standard.
It works like this:
- The program launches in October of this year.
- There are currently 10,000 books eligible for Matchbook. For once, Amazon appears to have sought voluntary enrollment in the program from publishers and authors before launching the service, and I offer personal kudos for that.
- If you buy—or bought—one of these books, you can download a Kindle Edition version for $2.99. $1.99, $0.99, or for free, depending on the individual book. The price of each title is likely decided by the publishers or authors, depending on who owns the rights.
- You can do this for any eligible book you purchased from Amazon going back to 1995.
That last part is extra sweet in my opinion, mainly because I haven't bought a physical book from Amazon since Apple launched iBooks. The company included a fluff quote from Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content, that is both funny and informative, and so I'm including it:
"If you logged onto your CompuServe account during the Clinton administration and bought a book like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus from Amazon, Kindle MatchBook now makes it possible for that purchase—18 years later—to be added to your Kindle library at a very low cost."
That's pretty funny.
You might remember Mr. Grandinetti as the Amazon executive that Judge Denise Cote found credible in Apple's antitrust trial when she didn't find Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue credible.
- I see Matchbook as a win for everyone.
- Customers leery of ebooks could find the transition easier.
- Book fanatics (read that as "nuts") like me might be idiotic enough to buy the book so they can read the ebook. Yes, I have done just that for a couple of series I find important.
- Publishers and authors have the opportunity to add value for readers in a way that could increase book sales overall.
I'd really like to see the price be free across the board. Buy the book, get a free ebook copy. I can see publishers and authors being leery of this. For instance, I could buy the book give it away as a gift, and read the ebook copy, but IP holders like publishers, labels, and studios need to start trusting their customers. The overall lift to the industry will more than offset such double dipping in my opinion.
To that end, this is almost certainly being seen as a trial run by the publishing side of the entry. That's why there are only 10,000 books that are part of the deal at launch. Everyone wants to see how this works before going all-in.
Healthy Book Stores
As mentioned up top, I have long wanted brick and mortar book stores to offer exactly this kind of program. I love browsing book stores, but I despise showrooming. If I'm going to buy my book from iBooks, I'll shop on iBooks or services like Goodreads (now owned by...Amazon).
If I could buy a book at a great independent like BookPeople in Austin or Book Passage in the Bay Area or Powell's in Portland and get a free ebook to read, I would merrily do that. Barnes & Noble should do the same thing with its Nook ebooks.
I believe that will be key to having a healthy brick and mortar book store industry in the future, and I believe such book stores are good for readers, the industry, and even their communities. Hopefully, Amazon's bold move will help make that a reality for smaller companies with less clout.
Interestingly, Matchbook and a possible brick and mortar equivalent has a significant advantage over Apple's iBooks platform. Apple doesn't sell physical books, and is never likely to do so.
I use iBooks precisely because Apple's iBooks app offers the single best reading experience on the planet. I expect Apple to keep it that way, but something like Matchbook ratchets up pressure on Apple to work even harder.
I like that idea.
There's one thing I don't like about this program, and that's the name. Matchbook. Yeah, I get what they did, there, because, you know they're "matching" books, but the burning metaphor stands out more prominently than the matching thing.
The company needs someone else in charge of naming. Like the Kindle Paperwhite, the company's E Ink reader. Again, I see what they did, what with the screen being white as paper, but it just makes me think of a paperweight.
For some reason, they didn't ask me.
Amazon has launched the Matchbook site, though the program doesn't go live until October.