Home » Amazon, Big Publishing, Ebooks, Pricing » Amazon to begin bundling print and digital books, to the detriment of both

Amazon to begin bundling print and digital books, to the detriment of both

4 September 2013

From Melville House:

Amazon rolled out a new ebook bundling program on Tuesday, one which will, in true Amazon fashion, burn down the orchard to help them reach a few more apples.

Amazon’s MatchBook is designed to institutionalize ebook bundling, a retail tactic that, though a fan favorite, almost always undervalues ebooks in price and, more importantly, in perceived value.

. . . .

It is a measure of our comfort with ubiquitous surveillance that the idea of a single company having, potentially, a record of every single book we’ve bought since 1995 does not seem to have given anyone pause in online discussion of MatchBook.

Grandinetti estimates that Matchbook will have ten thousand books included in the program when it begins in October. The majority of those will be from Amazon’s library of self-published books, many of them already priced—unilaterally by Amazon—at $2.99 or below. Amazon is automatically enrolling these books in the program and will pay those authors royalties based on the MatchBook price—authors have no say in the matter other than to opt out of the Amazon self -publishing program entirely. But Amazon plays cruel games with self-published author royalties all the time. Indeed, the company’s willingness to use the author as grist is of a piece with their misuse of precarious labor or state infrastructure: it is, we are, all materiel in their quintessential late capitalist drive for expansion. That, also, has not even risen to become a point of contention in online celebrations of MatchBook.

. . . .

Amazon may well get other publishers on board, too. Bargain basement ebook sales are better, in some lights, than no ebook sales. Every publisher has been slowly working to lock down the digital rights for their backlist, and it is hard to scoff at the potential for a new revenue stream from books in that fifteen-year-old doldrum. Some will surely sign up, at least for select authors, at least as an experiment.

. . . .

Bundling ebooks entails, at least in the MatchBook model, slashing the price of ebooks. More importantly, however, it means teaching consumers that ebooks are worth very little, that somehow the value that goes into creating a book is seared away if those words are formed of pixels rather than dyed tree fiber.

Link to the rest at Melville House and thanks to Scott for the tip.

PG will note a factual error – Amazon is not automatically enrolling self-published KDP books in MatchBook. As anyone who has read the press release properly could explain, enrollment is the self-pubbed author’s choice. (Expect an unacknowledged correction on the Melville House website after this post appears.)

As far as “Amazon plays cruel games with self-published authors royalties all the time,” since a traditional publisher is the author of this post, this looks like one of the more extreme examples of Amazon Derangement Syndrome that PG has observed to date. One of the common complaints traditionally-published authors bring to PG is that their publishers are playing cruel games with royalties, generally by not paying them.

Finally, publishers continue to fear that Amazon and indie authors are reducing “the perceived value” of books. As clumsy as most publishers are at marketing, it’s hilarious that they believe they can exert control over consumer perceptions of value.

And the idea that Amazon keeps track of what its customers purchase? The folks at Melville House will be surprised to learn that top-quality retailers have done that for decades.

Life as a gate-keeper doesn’t prepare individuals or organizations to compete effectively in a truly free market.

Amazon, Big Publishing, Ebooks, Pricing

50 Comments to “Amazon to begin bundling print and digital books, to the detriment of both”

  1. I don’t have time to read the whole thing but I note an even more basic and egregious factual error:

    The majority of those will be from Amazon’s library of self-published books, many of them already priced—unilaterally by Amazon—at $2.99 or below.

    Amazon does not price self-published books. The (self) publisher does. Period. There’s not even a default price in the KDP entry process. The box is blank. And blank isn’t even default to zero. It’s blank and will produce an error if you try to submit without filling it in.

    Admittedly Amazon provides a huge incentive to price at 2.99 to 9.99, but it does not provide any incentive whatsoever to price below 2.99.

    ADS, indeed.

  2. Actually, ebook bundling is more likely to continue to prop up the perceived value and status of hardbacks/trade paperbacks.

  3. Thanks for the chuckle. I get the email from Amazon and signed up as soon as I had the two minutes it took to enroll all my books.
    Yes, you only get the choices for price that Amazon lists, but they are fair prices. If I sell a print book and the reader wants an ecopy, why would I say no to a discount or a free copy?

    It makes me happy and sad to read these kinds of posts. Sad because someone is living in a delusion and happy because someone like that would never become a self-publisher so I don’t need to listen to them.

  4. I enrolled all my books as soon as I heard about this. Sounds like a great idea.

    Of course, I’m not a trade-publisher charging more for the e-book than the paperback.

  5. Factual errors or no factual errors, this strikes me as point-missing. The point is that while people still like to buy physical books, they like ebooks for their portablity. I’ve lugged my fair share of physical books through airports, usually on long business trips to boring places (which, after all, is where a lot of business happens). I would have loved to switch to ebooks for the trip, and gone back to paper when I returned home. This move looks at things from the reader’s point of view, and readers like it when things are sold to them in ways they can use more easily.

    It’s like when vinyl albums are sold with a free coupon to download the MP3 versions of all the songs on the vinyl. No-one expects you to bring vinyl and a portable turntable on the subway.

    • Kat’s making the same point I made to my husband last night concerning the last several movies we’ve bought–Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy, all for one price. So Matchbook makes total sense.

  6. My understanding of the Matchbook program: If a reader has bought a copy of my book in print from Amazon (earning me a royalty), that person can now also buy the same title in Kindle format at a discounted price (earning me a second royalty from that same reader).

    Products have been bundled at a discount for ages. Centuries, maybe. That’s nothing new.

    Matchbook isn’t devaluing the e-book, which will still be sold on its own at the regular price (and will still be the bigger seller than the print edition, I’ll bet); it’s adding value to the print edition.

    (And yes, there are multiple factual errors in the quoted piece.)

    • My understanding of the Matchbook program: If a reader has bought a copy of my book in print from Amazon (earning me a royalty), that person can now also buy the same title in Kindle format at a discounted price (earning me a second royalty from that same reader).

      That’s my understanding, too, and I think it’s genius. Frankly, I’d like it to go both ways. Bought my ebook? Loved it? Get a discount on the hardcopy. (But I still get a little royalty.) Heck, have Holiday Discounting where, if you own the ebook, you can buy 2-3 copies at a discount, to send to friends and family!

      Now I just need to get my books in hardcopy.

  7. “Life as a gate-keeper doesn’t prepare individuals or organizations to compete effectively in a truly free market.”

    Very nicely said, PG.

    • He definitely has “creative writing” down.

      When he bothers to pack his discussion with a diatribe like this packed with incorrect information…

      The majority of those will be from Amazon’s library of self-published books, many of them already priced—unilaterally by Amazon—at $2.99 or below. Amazon is automatically enrolling these books in the program and will pay those authors royalties based on the MatchBook price—authors have no say in the matter other than to opt out of the Amazon self -publishing program entirely. But Amazon plays cruel games with self-published author royalties all the time. Indeed, the company’s willingness to use the author as grist is of a piece with their misuse of precarious labor or state infrastructure: it is, we are, all materiel in their quintessential late capitalist drive for expansion.

      He’s kind of like this character:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPMS6tGOACo

  8. This Matchbook option is a much better idea to boost sales, more competitive and flexible from the publisher’s point of view, than KDP Select. KDP Select’s free books tsunami has killed sales compared to previous years. I’m wondering if KDP Select isn’t going to be phased out over time.

    Now an indie can opt in, opt out, raise or lower the e-book discount and remain non-exclusive, using Smashwords (which is out there swinging with its own new pre-order option) or other platforms.

    I’m reckoning that sooner or later, every KDP author will realize that this bundling may boost royalties overall, because some customers hesitate to buy e-book only. Now author profits will also come from money made in a new sale (combo of standard Createspace and lower KDP royalties) that might not have happened otherwise.

    It’s also a great way of buying a book gift and getting to read the e-book, just in time for Christmas.
    Brilliant, Bezos.

    (This is a separate angle from the pitch that owners of previously purchased p-books can add on an e-book, which is another plus, but probably more of an advantage for the longstanding trad publishers.)

    I really weep to read how wrong Melville House got its facts above. As noted by others, KDP authors choose their prices and can change them at will. Amazon is doing nothing unilaterally to set a KDP price, although there are limits depending on KDP Select enrollment for royalty percentages in some markets.

    What are they drinking over at Melville House—whale oil?

    Meanwhile, bad, bad idea, Bezos, to bundle Goodreads ratings into the Amazon review mix. Goodreads’ reviews can be heavily skewed by roving troll mafias who lower the ratings with one-star ‘shelving’ just for the fun of author-bashing.

    • I actually posted this elsewhere but as far as Goodreads ratings are concerned I wonder if Amazon is trying to flood Goodreads with new reviewers. If enough real reviews star pouring in the trolls will lose power by being outnumbered.

  9. I was trying to figure out a way to give buyers of my trade paperbacks the option of receiving the ebook for free, so this came at a great time. I enrolled both my books.

    (In fact, the only problem I have with Amazon is that they want you to enroll in the KDP to get the 70% royalty on sales to India and Japan. Only thing I could do was to opt out of selling in those countries, until they drop the requirement.)

    • KDP is Amazon’s indie publishing program. KDP Select is the 90-day exclusivity option. I wonder if confusion between the two is responsible for people sometimes assuming that Amazon requires exclusivity of indie authors. I know you know better, Bill, but that notion still crops up here and there.

      • Hi, Bridget, the reason I mentioned Select in this context is that Select allows you only five freebie days to promote an ebook over a 90 days period, while Matchbox will allow the indie publisher to set the price for a bundled e-book as low as zero if they wish for as long or short a time as they wish, without forgoing sales on other platforms like Apple or Kobo or B&N.

    • Can’t you still sell in those countries, albeit at a 35%, rather than 70%, royalty?

      • This. And India and Japan aren’t the only places wherein the royalty’s 35% unless you’re in KDP Select. (KDP Select = exclusivity program. KDP is not.)

    • Amazon have also pulled this “35% standard 70% for KDP Select books” in their newly announced Mexican store. So this seems to be their new order of business.
      I think every indie author should pull their books out of the kindle stores where amazon are only giving 35%. I know I am.
      Considering that Apple, Kobo, SmashWords etc. will give us the same 70-80% for sales in these countries why should we sell through amazon for half the money.

  10. The best part about that article is that it led me to this one: Amazon: Your Kids Are Next

    Amazon’s sin: an ad featuring children reading Kindles. Those bastards.

    • Oh, dear God, when will the evil END?

      • Quick, the smelling salts! My fainting couch! :P

      • I loved this part:

        ” It isn’t right to paint the advert as a purely innocent celebration of reading. Because every one of these children is reading a Kindle. And the ad didn’t run on that night and at that time by accident: Amazon clearly wanted to catch children and parents together, just as school is about to begin again, and as Missingham notes, to send a clear message that Amazon is now ‘taking the children’s market seriously.’

        Oh to have heard the whines of ‘Muuuuum can we get one of those?! Please, please can we get one of those plastic crappy things which we’ll have discarded in six months?’”

        The gentleman should see a doctor shortly: all those pavlovian blood pressure spikes can’t be good for the heart. :D

        • Amazon is now ‘taking the children’s market seriously.’

          Clearly, he’s upset someone is finally taking book markets seriously, given publishers stopped doing so years ago.

        • Oh, for the love of Mike – so when Amazon advertises its Kindle, it should be including pictures of the competitors’ readers??

  11. To somebody inclined to buy the ebook only (most Kindle owners) the deal here (for new purchases) is that the print book is what’s being discounted.
    To the extent that it boosts indie pbook visibility and sales, encouraging more indies to do pbooks it will further pressure B&M booksellers (and libraries) to stock indie titles.

    This will force in turn force the trad publishers to follow Angry Robot’s move to copy the movie industry’s ULTRAVIOLET game plan of bundling free digital download codes with the physical media.

    So the angst in luddite-ville over this is just starting.
    The ripples will spread far andwide.

  12. A family member occasionally purchases clothes at the regional high-end ladies shop. The senior sales clerk has a file for each customer that includes: her preferred lines (Geiger, Michael Kors, YSL); the colors she likes; what season she usually shops for (spring, resort, and so on); what pieces she already has; and size, including changes or special notes (size twelve slacks with a 25″ inseam, cuffed). How, Melville House, is this any different from Amazon?

    • Melville House is just angry that no one would want THEM to hold that kind of data.

      As a customer, I’m thrilled with the Amazon-buying experience. Yes, they have a record of my purchases back into the ’90s. Good. I trust them to keep it safe and use it to provide me with an even better experience.

      Would a big publisher do that, assuming they could manage a comparable shopping and buying experience and if I let them have that information? Heck no.

  13. The standard thinking applies: Amazon has done something. Everything Amazon does is bad. Therefore, Amazon has done something bad. Fire up the outrage machine.

    Once again, a traditional publisher demonstrates the inability to distinguish between themselves, authors, and readers. If it does anything other than maintain their status quo, it’s horrible, and thus bad for authors and readers, too. Surely, authors and readers feel the same way, right? Right?

  14. Those aren’t run of the mill factual errors. The foundational assumptions of his perception of this program are demonstrably wrong. That is…so lazy, and stupid.

    Also, this is amazing:

    “we are materiel in their quintessential late capitalist drive for expansion.”

    The horror.

  15. It only requires you to slash your ebook prices if you’re over pricing them to begin with. I’d think these folks would like something that encourages print sales. But then, it seems to make mathematical sense for trade paperbacks, not so much hardcovers. Of course, had they been giving a free copy of the ebook with hardcover sale to begin with, then the high ebook-only price would actually drive people to buy hardcover rather than drive them to not buy the book at all.

    Readers seem to really like this idea and happy readers means money. Unless you’re pricing was outrageous or exploitative to begin with, this looks like there’s money to be made here.

  16. I had to respond to this nonsense earlier on my blog. I couldn’t help it. In essence:

    Any company whose core values includes the notion that customers should be stuck with the bill for cost inefficiencies deserves to go out of business.

    In the words of the immortal Bugs: What a maroon.

  17. I bought many music CDs through Amazon. What was my surprise, when Amazon asked me if I would like to download, for Free, all that music I bought in my Amazon Cloud player. I did and when I’m on my computer sometimes I listen to the cloud player and not iTunes. If I would have a smart phone I could do the same thing, bypassing my iPod.
    In this bundling case, Amazon is offering to sell the eBook at a discount, if the customer bought the paper book. If this is not a win-win set up I don’t know what is. The Indie Authors will be able to sell more of the same book. One paper the other pixels.
    Don’t forget, Amazon will advertise for the authors and books that enrolled when the program is rolled out.

  18. More proof, as if any was needed, that Jeff Bezos is a lizard person. Also, you know what else you can buy from Amazon. Tin Foil! Explain that.

  19. Extreme is right. The falsehood and vitriol in this article seem to border on libel. Do you think Amazon would have a case if they decided to pursue a defamation suit?

    • I know that the UK, unlike the US has product libel laws, but aside from applicability questions, Amazon suing that nitwit would be nuking a gnat and a waste of funds.
      And we all know how…parsimonious…Amazon is. :)

  20. I think this error,

    ‘The majority of those will be from Amazon’s library of self-published books, many of them already priced—unilaterally by Amazon—at $2.99 or below’….

    may have been in reference to Amazon automatically enrolling their Amazon Published (from their imprints) authors’ books in the program. {{shrug}} Works for me. I’ve always tried to give books as gifts for most holidays and I’m super thrilled as a customer I can start also getting the ebook free or discounted. And as for the now redundant “Everything Amazon Does is Bad” slogan, I’ve already publicly called Amazon the Big Bad Wolf.

    Here’s the link on JA Konrath if you want to see how I feel about being on their team:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2013/09/guest-post-by-kay-bratt.html

    • Ah, so that’s the story behind that book that keeps popping up on my FIRE’s screensaver every few hours!
      Sounds like something my mother and sister will like.
      Plus a couple of friends…
      …and, yes, me…
      Congrats!

  21. With Christmas coming up, a lot of people will buy a physical book for giftgiving and an ebook version for themselves.

    Heh heh, pretty clever.

  22. ” a single company having, potentially, a record of every single book we’ve bought since 1995.”

    No, they will only have a record of books bought at Amazon, which–surprise!–Amazon already has. Books bought elsewhere can’t qualify a reader for this program.

    I think he’s been reduced to spouting gibberish in the horror of trying to figure how to work with this program given their current contracts. It will put them at a competitive disadvantage to not have their books enrolled, and has the high probability of complicating relationships with their authors. (And accountants, which is probably his bigger concern.)

    It may be an attempt to terrify their authors into not wanting to participate.

    • The less tradpub publishers that play, the better for the publishers that do, no? :)
      Kinda like how the agency conspiracy drove readers from BPH ebooks to indies and small publishers. Classic consumer behavior: If you don’t give readers the best deal, they’ll go to someone who will.
      Books aren’t literally fungible but to a lot of genre readers they are very close…

  23. Amazon’s announcement has actually motivated me to *start* exploring print options for my books.

  24. in the words of my exceedingly clever son:

    There is neither enough head nor enough desk for the amount of headdesk this requires.

    I enrolled the two novels I have out so far in Matchbook, at .99 for the ebook. I don’t sell a lot in paper, but I figure I’ve got nothing to lose. And – I wasn’t expecting this – it looked like, since those two novels are at 70% royalty rates, that 70% carries over to the promotional price. I had to blink and look at the numbers a few times, but when it showed the royalty I’d get from the promotional price I set, it was 70% of .99 (minus a few cents for the download fee). Good deal :D

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