Earlier this week, Amazon announced Their Kindle Matchbooks program to launch this October: a book bundling system that will allow Amazon customers to order e-book copies of their purchased print books at a discount: some e-book copies will be free with this program, and the highest cost? $2.99.
The immediate benefits of bundling are obvious for the consumer: the convenience of an additional reading platform, the added value and the element of social reading, while still retaining the tactile joy of a physical copy.
For authors, bookstores and publishers, the benefits are easy to see as well: Their customers aren’t forced to choose between digital or print. Bundling also offers promotional value and increases discoverability. Going one step further, it goes towards building a relationship with the reader.
Also notable is that most news outlets that announced Amazon’s Matchbook program added the telling descriptive “finally”. Bundling has of course, been a long standing and promotion for films, music or video games: why not books? In the past 18 months, several publishers and authors have become the testers and the trailblazers of this idea, with respectable levels of success. Perhaps Amazon was waiting to observe their competition before developing their own bundling system, a cautious but seemingly cost-effective strategy.
With all the benefits for both the buyers and sellers of books, what could possibly go wrong with Amazon’s Matchbook?
Firstly, there is intrinsic, monetary value attached to both the print and digital copy of the book. As TechDirt pointed out last August, some publishers are concerned bundling could “leave money on the table“. There is additional concern of buyers gifting their purchase, while retaining either the print or digital version for themselves.
Secondly, (and more importantly) the first point bears repeating: there is intrinsic, monetary value attached to both the print and the digital copy of a book. Amazon’s Bookstore has been known to discount even their best sellers by nearly half their cover price; their prices were even further slashed in a price war with the e-commerce company Overstock. While celebrated authors tied to one of the big five publishers may have little to worry about, most books on Amazon already sell for less than $4.00. Amazon’s Matchbook risks further devaluing the work of a lesser known author by enforcing the premise that a digital edition should be cheaper, or free.
Is Amazon intentionally enforcing this idea? Not likely. The problem with Amazon is that they’ve built themselves on being able to provide consumers with the product for the least amount of money. They have been rewarded for this, but their focus is on instant gratification of the buyer, not the effect on the author or the publishing community.
As Dustin Kurtz argues, costs of producing a book have very little to do with the paper it’s printed on. The value of an e-book shouldn’t be diminished simply because its digital.
Book-Bundling is an exciting new stage in in the ever-changing world of publishing, and a great opportunity for authors, publishers and readers alike. Hopefully what we pursue in our passion for reading, writing or sharing is a healthy appreciation for a great bargain, while remembering how valuable our storytellers are.
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