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The most surprising aspect of Kindle MatchBook

The publishing industry has been buzzing lately about Amazon's latest announcement, Kindle MatchBook. MatchBook, which launches in October, offers consumers extremely low-priced ebook version of print books they've already bought (or will buy).

My first reaction to the announcement was, "great for consumers, not so much for publishers and authors." MatchBook is consistent with Amazon's overarching goal of offering the world's lowest prices. So as a reader I'm thrilled about MatchBook, but I have to admit it's yet another reason why I'm kind of happy to no longer be in the book publishing business.

MatchBook will only help erode the perceived value of ebooks. When the original Kindle launched in 2007 Amazon convinced us that ebooks should be $9.99 or less. MatchBook will now cause consumers to look at ebooks as a $2.99 (or less) throw-in or afterthought when you buy the print book. Publishers are already struggling to grow their ebook revenue fast enough to make up for their ongoing print revenue decline. What happens when there's even more downward price pressure like this, even as a bundle?

Publishers have had plenty of opportunities to take more control over their destiny up to now though. What I'm talking about is the need to create direct channels to their customers. Since most don't bother with that, they've simply handed the keys to the kingdom over to Amazon and they have no one to blame but themselves if they're unhappy with a program like MatchBook.

Btw, reports I've read indicate publishers need to opt in to MatchBook. So if a publisher doesn't like the concept, they can sit on the sidelines. But even if they don't participate, there's no stopping the perceived value Amazon is creating around ebooks with this program.

The MatchBox offer doesn't surprise me and neither does a lack of broad publisher participation. What I am surprised about though is that Amazon is actually giving publishers the option to participate in MatchBook.

Publishers never had the option to stop Amazon from selling ebooks at a loss for $9.99. (The agency model was supposed to address that, but the DOJ believes Apple's tiny ebook market share has penalized consumers, so the agency model has officially been neutered.) Since Amazon is free to assign whatever price they deem appropriate on an ebook, why can't they do the same for the price on ebooks that are bundled with print books?

Is Jeff Bezos turning soft? I'm stunned that Amazon didn't just march forward and say, "MatchBook lets you buy the ebook version of any print book you've bought from Amazon, all for $2.99 or less." They'd pay the publisher their portion of the full digital list price, which means every bundle sale would be made at a loss.

Here's what I think will happen: Amazon initially gave publishers the option to participate in MatchBook. Most didn't. Amazon moves forward with the MatchBook launch next month and they'll closely monitor the numbers. If the results shows Amazon could open this up to all ebooks without adding significantly to the company's overall quarterly financial loss, they'll announce a much broader version of MatchBook down the road, with our without publisher approval.


R Bggs

Or, maybe they just effectively *raised* the price of print books by $2.99. As it currently stands, very few people purchase the ebook AND the print book. Until now, it has been an either/or proposition. Amazon has (1) made the more expensive print book seem more economical, and (2) made it more likely that customers will purchase both the print and the ebook.

Stephen L Nelson

>overarching goal of offering the world's lowest prices.

Man oh man, I echo your concern about the profitability of these sorts of gambits for the content guys.

I recently had the experience of "porting" an ebook I'd written and sold from niche information websites to Kindle. My experience (which admittedly is just a few weeks in length) is that Amazon's kindle program sells fewer units at lower prices and way higher returns/refunds.

And now they want to push out more "volume" at even lower prices? That just won't be profitable for the content producers... Oh, wait...What's that Jeff? You don't know how to make a profit in publishing? Okay, now it all makes sense...


If I bought the physical book the ebook should be free. I'm certainly not going to re-buy a book I already paid for. This doesn't diminish the value of books. Furthermore there is nothing that entitles publishers to make any major profits. In fact just like music there are now so many books, and they're coming out so fast, that they are simply a commodity, because in both areas the distributors can no longer act as gatekeepers creating the illusion of scarcity to drive up prices.

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