Tuesday, September 03, 2013
Amazon Matchbox: Wet Matches or Real Fire?
If you buy a print book and get an ebook thrown in you would call it a bundle. It’s like the old ‘buy 1 get 1 free’ offer. You may pay a little extra at the time you buy it, but you may want to read the hardcopy at home and the digital in the version on the train. You may just be a hoarder and intent on owning everything, in every media.
But is physical and digital book bundling mere hype dreamt up by the digital advisors, or a new marketing ‘must have’ and is there a real consumer demand that needs to be fulfilled, or are we merely striking matches in the dark?
Well Amazon have once again gone where others often teeter and have announced Amazon Matchbox. Perhaps it will set the market on fire, or perhaps it will just be another potential attractive offer that keeps the others playing catch-up.
Matchbox offers to let you have a digital copy of those books you bought from Amazon since it started in 1995. Some will cost up to 2.99 others may be free. Once the publisher enrolls and the title is in the programme consumers can complete the bundle. HarperCollins are reported to be the first in Matchbox and Amazon claim some 10,000 titles are already eligible.
If we forget all the big names and titles that litter the press release, we have to ask ourselves whether this is feeding a latent consumer demand, creating a ‘must have’ bundled environment, or just a Matchbox with wet matches?
It is relatively easy to understand those that would subscribe to a MP3 and vinyl bundle, but has this been such a huge success that we all have to have a musical bundle? Books don’t get reread like music can be replayed, or suffer the reduced quality issues of MP3, so why would you buy a book bundle?
Perhaps the answer is in the second hand market of used books, which Amazon just happens to also sell. Perhaps it is to further differentiate Amazon from the pack who don’t sell physical books and probably ever will? Perhaps Amazon know something we don’t?
So you can now sell your old copy if it was bought from Amazon and buy a new digital one which takes up no space, but is yours barring any DRM issues. You can even replace those books you threw out, or previously gave away, or sold. But the point is you could do these things anyway and didn’t need matchbox to achieve it. Matchbox today is retrospective bundling and involves effectively two separate transactions and it will be interesting to see how HRMC in the UK and other tax authorities judge the ‘bundle’ when a tax variation exists between the physical and digital formats.
We presume the offer is purely for the Amazon fulfilled product and doesn’t extend to their other booksellers, ABE and The Book Depository.
Retrospective bundling also introduces issues if the rights have reverted, changed hands or are not world-wide. The question of how these ‘net receipts’ will be accounted and itemised to authors is yet another potential digital ‘honesty box.’
So we are no better off understanding this new ‘bundle’ than we were when we started and Amazon’s intentions may appear to offer even more perceived added value to keep the distance between them and the pretenders.