Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
My first thought when I heard about Amazon’s plan to let owners of physical books buy digital copies of those same titles for $0.99-$2.99 was, “what took so long?” It’s a fantastic idea and I’m completely sure it will be a success.
While there’s no simple name for the practice of letting customers buy one form of media and giving them the same exact content in another form cheaply, it’s been going on for years. Movie studios have long offered Blu-ray copies of movies that come with a DVD version in the same box at little to no extra charge. They’ve also given away digital copies of their Blu-ray movies to load onto iPads and laptops when you’re on the go. Amazon’s even done this themselves in their music store, as Jeremy Greenfield notes, giving folks access to MP3 versions of an album once they purchase the CD version.
Why are books the slowest to get on this trend? It’s partly because digitization became popular in music in the late 90s and movies in the 2000s, and ebooks are only, in the last few years, getting to a point where they account for enough of publishers’ bottom lines for people to care. Digital music players and DVD/Blu-ray players matured way before Kindles, iPads and smartphones made it super convenient to read books on a screen, so the customer base wasn’t there.
With the “why now” question answered, we turn to why this is a smart move for everyone involved. This is great for Amazon, since there’s undoubtedly an audience who buys lots of physical books that wants to dabble in ebooks for convenience. Piggybacking $1-$3 per book on their physical sales will quickly add up to a huge profit. Not only is this a quick short term boost in revenue, in the long term, by getting more of their audience accustomed to digital books, Amazon is poised to transition a huge customer base to ebooks, where margins are higher since the shipping, warehousing and production cost of ebooks is essentially zero. This is where Amazon wants to end up–a world where they only have to stock physical books for the small amount of people who still love the feel of paper.
HarperCollins is the only large publisher participating in Amazon’s MatchBook program at launch, but it’s better than no publishers at all. Publishers are notoriously afraid of trying new programs like this, even when there’s really no downside for the publisher in the program. Do their figures show that there’s some huge contingent of people buying both the physical and digital versions of the same book? That’s doubtful. Why not capitalize on convenient and earn a couple extra bucks per book sale through Amazon? (The unspoken answer, of course, is that publishers don’t want to lower the perceived value of their ebooks to $2.99, because they want to continue charging $9.99 to $14.99 for digital books.)
The MatchBook program has obvious benefits for the consumer as well. If you’re a purely digital buyer–which many readers who read more than a couple books per year are–you can gift the physical copy of books you buy to friends or family. It also allows you the ability to have a physical copy for the one or two books per year you love and want to keep on your bookshelf. Folks who aren’t quite as ready to go digital can use this as a cheap transition method, swapping back and forth between paper and screen until they find an electronic reading solution that they’re comfortable with.
Since I run StoryBundle, a site that bundles together books and offers them at a pay-what-you-want price, I can definitely appreciate it when a company like Amazon tries something new. They just debuted a program where you can get nine Kindle ebooks for $1 each after you purchased a qualifying book. Just like with the MatchBook program, Amazon’s taking authors signed up through their own Amazon Publishing imprints and doing something creative and customer-friendly with it.