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The Least Surprising Aspect of Kindle MatchBook

kindle matchbookJoe Wikert, the former general manager of O’Reilly Media, has a new opinion post up this morning. He’s spent some time this past week thinking about Amazon’s newly announced Kindle Matchbook program, and he is concerned:

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?

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.

Based on what Amazon is doing right now I would say that Joe is mostly correct, in his prediction, but I am betting that it won’t end up being as terrible as he makes it sound. I am basing that on Amazon and how they are running their other bundling program.

Amazon currently has a bundling program for audiobooks and ebooks. I posted about it in April, but it had been around for several months before I noticed.

I just checked, and at the moment this program offers Kindle ebook buyers the opportunity to add an Audible audiobook for $10 to $13 (normal retail is $26 to $45). The price points are less varied than when I checked in April, and that suggests that Amazon has stopped experimenting with the program and set a plan for the future.

Update: I’ve been told told that I should have spent more time looking; the prices vary over a larger range than what I found.  But that’s okay because the basic point remains the same. Thanks, Brian!

Amazon is offering the bundle just like they sold $9.99 ebooks (not all titles are included). Only about half of the Stephen King titles I checked today offered a bundle, even though most had an audiobook listed.

If Amazon applies the same selection process to the ebooks included in the Kindle Matchbook program, then Joe’s concerns are overblown. At best Amazon is going to offer a limited number of bundled ebooks, not "all ebooks" as Joe mentions.

It’s much more likely that Amazon is going to use the program to selectively suggest ebook sales based on one’s Amazon order history. I wouldn’t be surprised if I started getting emails from Amazon telling me I can get a $3 Kindle edition of past paper books purchases. They’ll be using it just like they used the $10 ebook – to tempt me into buying more ebooks.

And is that really such a bad thing?

The actual cost of selling that one extra copy is minimal, so why shouldn’t it be used to push more ebook sales?

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fjtorres September 9, 2013 um 12:08 pm

Nate, every time Amazon hiccups, somebody will pop up "viewing with alarm", "concerned", or outright hyperventilating.
As your headline puts it, the least surprising aspect of any Amazon promotional effort is that the usual suspects will find objections.
The way I see it, traditional publishers have no moral right whatsoever to object to any promotional effort by Amazon or B&N or any other retailer because they long ago outsourced promotion and customer relations to the big retailers. (Once upon a time, before they went corporate,publishers sold direct, sold bundles, mailed newsletters and offered real promotional value to their authors.Today,less so.)
As for MatchBook, the majority of indie publishers that I’ve seen express an opinion, are eagerly in favor of it. All see it as a useful temporary promo tool; Some even intend to offer their bundles permanently, the way Hollywood now defaults BluRay releases to a 3-way bundle.
Oh, and every last one is happy to see the traditionalists (not named ANGRY ROBOT) stay on the sidelines. They won’t be missed.

SteveH September 9, 2013 um 2:26 pm

My big issue is the pricing inflexibility they have with this program. $2.99, 1.99, 0.99, or free AND no other possible price options. On many higher priced ebook titles, this just doesn’t make sense.

Nate Hoffelder September 9, 2013 um 2:31 pm

Agreed. The $3 price point isn’t suitable for a $20 or $30 nonfiction title. I think it would have been a lot better if Amazon had experimented with prices before announcing the program.

Carole September 10, 2013 um 2:39 am

I suppose you’re upset from a writers perspective, but think about the readers.
If I’m already spending $20-$30, what is the huge problem with an additional $3 for the digital copy? I understand the author only gets a fraction of that $3, but it’s more than they would have gotten before.

Does the fact that I can put a CD or DVD that I’ve purchased onto my Ipod, for free, lessen the value of the content? NO

I love my Kindle, but having a physical copy of my favorite books along with the digital file will make me feel more comfortable. What if my kindle breaks and I can’t afford to replace it?

Yes, you could argue there are apps for tablets or phones. But my tablet it rather large and my phone pretty small. (Neither would be comfortable to read on)

If I’m willing to shell out more money for a particular book, so I can have it in either format, I would think an author would be flattered by my commitment to them.

Nate Hoffelder September 10, 2013 um 7:26 am

I’m not upset.

It’s just that with the upper limit of $3 many publishers won’t sign up, and also thanks to the limit Amazon can’t afford to give too many copies away. This is going to limit the reach of the program.

fjtorres September 9, 2013 um 3:41 pm

Which would be the BPH titles, mostly.
And those folks wouldn’t be participating anyway.
Yes, more flexibility would be good but, since the average Kindle ebook price (including the BPH titles) comes out to something in the $6-7 range, the other requirement–at least 50% off–means pretty much all the non-BPH titles likely to benefit from this promotion are already covered.

Bookmatch is a classic BOGO promotion and those come in two flavors: Buy One Get One Free, and Buy One Get One 50% off, with the discounted SKU always being the cheaper–in this case, the ebook. Consumers (the people with the money) expect BOGO deals to follow those patterns. Buy one get 10% off the second won’t excite anybody. Just ask Borders survivors…

It’s just a promotional program!
Like it? Play along.
Don’t? Skip it and keep on selling as before.
There’s no reason to go all Melville House over it. 🙂

Brian September 9, 2013 um 3:41 pm

"I just checked, and at the moment this program offers Kindle ebook buyers the opportunity to add an Audible audiobook for $10 to $13 (normal retail is $26 to $45)."

Must not have checked many books? I’ve bought a lot of stuff from them this way and most of the audio I’ve bought has been $1.99 to $3.49 and even if I don’t already own the Kindle version buying the two can add up to less than the cost of one Audible credit (about $11.50).

Nate Hoffelder September 9, 2013 um 3:44 pm

So Amazon is still experimenting? Thanks for the heads up!

R. Scot Johns September 10, 2013 um 9:10 am

Joe’s comments also assume most people still want print books, which many of us don’t. In most cases I would have no use for one – they’re bulky and just take up space -, so the MatchBook program is no incentive for me, regardless of the discount. It’s still more than I would pay for the ebook alone. What is eroding is the perceived value of the print book.

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