Posted on February 3, 2014 in Archive

Matchbook is failing to light publisher’s fires


The Kindle Matchbook (brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood Amazon) has been around for nearly six months, now – Amazon’s endeavour at bundling ebooks with the paper version, or alternately allowing Amazon account holders to purchase ebook copies of the physical book that they purchased from Amazon, way-back-when. This system isn’t perfect, however – not by a long shot.

Don’t get me wrong – for a lot of readers, it will seem like a great deal. Matchbook stipulates that the ebook versions must be discounted by at least 50%, or under $2.99 in the American market, which could potentially save readers a fair bit of money. Authors and publishers are even given the option of providing the ebooks for free (something I wholeheartedly agree with – paying for the same book twice just doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s an argument for another time), or as part of the program for a limited time. If users decide to purchase an ebook at the same time as they buy a paper book, then hey – they can start reading the ebook almost immediately, and then switch between the two formats as they like once the book is successfully shipped. Another bonus for readers is – what’s to stop people from selling their physical book collections (perhaps even on Amazon, as used books) and using part of the proceeds to replace them with ebooks? If people are interested in switching to ebook only (and despite the numerous debates that rage on about books vs. ebooks, there are people out there that don’t want bookshelves to be used for bookshelves in their homes), then this could be a viable option for them to stock their ebook library with their favourites for pocket change. Martyn Daniels wrote about the topic more here.

Here comes the bad part for consumers, though. Publishers have to give permission for their works to be included in the program. The majority of publishers have not really been very forthcoming with their permission, either. This means that for many Amazon users that even though they might have purchased hundreds of books through Amazon, only a handful will be available for cheap purchase through Matchbook – here’s an example of one Amazon Matchbook user’s experiences. When promotion started for Amazon Matchbook, they claimed that 10,000 books would be available – by the time it actually released in October, around 75,000 titles were available. Today, there are 104,394 titles when you search generally under the Matchbook program.

This looks impressive from far away, but come on – that’s a drop in the ocean of all the millions of book titles that Amazon has on their website. Presumably the publishers that are holding out are planning their own bundles, available to you elsewhere at a slightly more expensive price. It might also be safe to assume that the non-major publishers and authors that have agreed to use the Matchbook program are connected with Amazon in some way – self-publishers or Amazon-only, perhaps?

I can completely understand why so many publishers are reluctant to let Amazon heavily reduce their ebook prices and bundle formats. HarperCollins seems to be the only major publisher showing any sign of cooperation – but primarily only for older titles, which suggests they are using Matchbook to push ebook sales for their back catalogue. Seriously, though – if the big new thing is to bundle the same product across multiple formats, shouldn’t it be the publisher setting up this bundling so that they can maximise their own profits? If they hadn’t thought of it themselves, they probably need to hire a new sales department.

So the cheap titles are sure to entice some Amazon readers – but the overall lack of availability of titles will make them turn back. Hopefully the Matchbook experience is a learning curve – maybe you should be restricting your Amazon book purchases to HarperCollins from now on.

(I’m joking, by the way – HarperCollins didn’t even pay me for that little plug.)