I agree with Chad on this one. If you only get the discounted ebook once you buy the print copy, I don’t see how consumers lose track of the cost of a book.
MatchBook is NOT a Dating Service for Readers
4 September 13 | Chad W. Post
Amazon made a couple of announcements yesterday that, as Amazon announcements tend to do, set the book world atwitter. They announced the next version of the Kindle, but the news that really generated the headlines was the announcement of “MatchBook.”1
Amazon has unveiled a new US initiative to bundle print and e-books, called Kindle MatchBook.
The online retailer is to offer customers the opportunity to buy Kindle editions of print books bought from Amazon.com for prices said to range typically from $2.99 down to completely free.
The offer will set to be available not only on newly published titles, but also titles bought as far back as 1995, where the books are signed up to the scheme.
Russ Grandinetti, vice-president of Kindle content, said: “If you logged onto your CompuServe account during the Clinton administration and bought a book like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus from Amazon, Kindle MatchBook now makes it possible for that purchase—18 years later—to be added to your Kindle library at a very low cost. In addition to being a great new benefit for customers, this is an easy choice for publishers and authors who will now be able to earn more from each book they publish.”
First of all, even if you did buy it when Clinton was in office do not buy the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus ebook no matter how cheaply Amazon makes it via this program. Please. Save yourself.
Now, there are a number of angles to this announcement, but let’s start with some obvious, pro-reader ones: FINALLY WE HAVE BUNDLING. This is something most people with an e-reader and a love of physical books have wanted for a while—and something that music labels have been offering. In terms of music, if makes total sense (to me) that if you buy the vinyl of an album, you get a code so that you can download the mp3 version as well, allowing you to listen to the music while sitting on your couch, or while running at the gym. Basically—and this is a very important point—the music manufacture is selling you the content not the container.
As things currently stand in the book world, if you bought a copy of Javier Marias’s The Infatuations because you love Marias and are willing to shell out $20 for the hardcover version, and then, say, you wanted to take this with you to read Iceland, but, due to the fact that you’re schlepping other stuff, you don’t necessarily have the room for more than your Kindle, you’d have to pay an additional $12+ to get the eversion. Essentially, publishers are treating these two different “containers” (the physical book, the ebook) as separate items to be purchased separately.
But that’s madness. Putting aside the fact that basically no one reads these days anyway, it’s crazy to put your customers in a position where they have to choose between buying either a print version or an e-version of a book when the fixed costs to you (the publisher) are accounted for in the purchase of either one of these. Instead, offer three options: the print book for $20, the ebook for $15, or both for $23. I’d probably choose $23, or maybe $15, but I would NEVER choose to pay $35 to get both. And when a customer has so many other entertainment options, it seems like the smartest thing to do is to make things simple and keep them happy.
Dustin at Melville House disagrees with me:
We’ve discussed this before, and indeed, our own Dennis Johnson is less averse to the idea of bundling ebooks than I find myself. but it bears repeating: the problem with ebook bundling is that consumers have no real sense of what a book should cost. Readers don’t know what, specifically, they are paying for when they buy a book. If you tell them, as Amazon has repeatedly done, that ebooks are worth a dollar or less, of course they’ll believe that. After all, there is no paper to pay for.
Unlike the ever-astute readers of MobyLives, the general book buyer might not imagine, for instance, that the price of materials—the weighty stuff of a book, paper etc.—for an average hardcover book from a major publisher will rarely make up more than 15% of the eventual price of the book. Books cost what they do because the services to produce them are expensive, not the paper. Editors, designers, even marketers like myself, all cost money. And while people can and certainly have argued that publishing is broken and all of those professionals that make a book attractive or worth reading or help you find it in stores are essentially obsolete, it is impossible to argue that the value they add to a book is somehow moot if that book is digital. Ebooks from publishers benefit from the hand of an editor as much as their print editions, and that benefit is reflected in the price.
The problem I have with his logic is that he’s not taking into account the fact that this discounted ebook version is only available to customers who also buy the print version. If Amazon was reducing all ebooks to $2.99 or free, then he’d have a point. As things stand, there are like 10 gazillion $.99 books available on Amazon—the vast majority only slightly better than Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus—and that’s not even what we’re talking about. Instead we’re talking about Amazon providing a benefit that a lot of high-volume readers are going to value greatly.
The only way I see Dustin’s logic holding water is if Amazon were forcing publishers to sell ebooks for super-cheap and if there were no print edition at all. But if you’re producing and selling the print edition anyway, then you can’t argue you’re really losing money on all the hidden costs that go into making and selling a book.
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