Amazon quietly launched Kindle MatchBook onTuesday, a service offering customers heavily discounted e-book versions of actual books purchased on the site dating back to its launch in 1995. Depending on the title, e-book pricing ranges from $2.99 to as little as 99 cents — and in some instances, free.
The program applies to new, unused purchases and launched with 70,000 titles, a marked improvement from the 10,000 books it was slated to offer in its pre-launch announcement made last month. Self-published titles from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will also qualify. Publishers and authors may end enrollment at any time, but the e-book must be 50 percent or less than the regular e-book price and no higher than $2.99.
The concept of bundling is nothing new, but the bold move by Amazon — which controls 60 percent of the e-book market— signals another blurring of lines in the publishing industry, which has largely kept separate physical books from their digital versions.
The move follows a federal ruling that found Apple guilty of colluding with major publishers to raise e-book prices, limiting publishers’ pricing power and further empowering Amazon’s discount model in the e-book market.
HarperCollins was the only major publisher house that partnered with MatchBook at its initial announcement, but titles from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Chronicle Books, Marvel and Wiley are also now available with the new service. According to HarperCollins’ Chief Digital Officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi, only a selection of the company’s backlist is available for the launch, but should MatchBook’s bundling prove successful, more titles will be added.
“People live in both worlds,” said Restivo-Alessi. “They like that they can consume content in different forms and they have different purposes at an additional price.”
MatchBook follows the success of another Amazon initiative to create an ecosystem for its customers. In January the major retailer launched AutoRip, a program that gives customers free MP3s of vinyl and CD purchases. Last month, the company reported that AutoRip-enabled vinyl albums sold at a 62 percent higher volume than non-AutoRip records, boosting vinyl sales 66 percent year-over-year. Though resurgence in vinyl collection contributed to the uptick of sales, Amazon admits the positive customer response to music bundling service added to their confidence to roll out MatchBook.
Critics argue the new program devalues the e-book market, perceiving it as merely bonus content, but David Wilk, a publishing veteran and owner of book marketing and consulting firm Bootrix, argues bundling actually increases revenue for the retailer, publisher and author. If a publisher can sell more print books than they would lose e-books at a standard price point, he explained, MatchBook makes sense.
Response from some traditional publishers has been mild, but MatchBook’s retroactive policy promotes additional revenue for e-books otherwise out of print, which could prove to be a boon for the print market.
“Bundling has the effect of propping up the traditional [print] business,” Wilk said.
In fact, MatchBook may even compensate for the loss traditional publishing houses have experienced over the past decade because of digital-only and self-publishers. Ironically, bundling may position traditional publishers to offer added value that digital-only houses cannot. MatchBook also plans to allow temporary bundling offers, giving publishers a chance to test the program through book promotion.
David Wogahn, of e-book publishing consultant firm Sellbox, agrees the MatchBook strategy is not only beneficial to publishers, but furthers the Amazon’s digital reader strategy to focus on content and strengthen its relationship with customers. “As a customer I might give my loyalty to Amazon because now I’ll be positioned to always have access to my book.”
Still, publishers and critics are concerned about becoming entirely dependent on the major retailer’s ecosystem. Last month, novelist Jonathan Franzen penned a scathing Guardian essay decrying Amazon’s grip on the industry, and has previously called the online marketplace a demolition to the independent book business.
But as travel author Bill Bryson pointed out at the Booksellers Association conference this month, digital books are inevitable. The idea of bundling eases the burden of choice for readers, making it convenient to take a book anywhere they go and thus, strengthens the overall industry. “If [publishers] don’t move to that really quickly,” Bryson said, “People will be forced to take the digital version whether they really want to or not.”
“I think the idea is read anywhere,” Wilk said. “There are enough reasons that people want both versions that publishers will see the benefit.”