Home » Agents, Amazon, Big Publishing, Ebook Subscriptions » Are Publishers a Match for Kindle MatchBook?

Are Publishers a Match for Kindle MatchBook?

7 September 2013

From Publishers Weekly:

When Amazon announced on Tuesday that it was launching a program to bundle print and e-books, called Kindle MatchBook, the effort drew little response from publishers, and even less participation. Among the major houses, HarperCollins is currently the only one participating, and it is doing so in a limited fashion. With publishers largely unwilling to talk about the program—most houses PW contacted declined to comment on MatchBook—the question remains whether publishers are not yet willing to try bundling, or whether they simply don’t want to try it with Amazon.

. . . .

Bundling has been a simmering topic in the publishing industry. Some executives, like Evan Schnittman, formerly at Bloomsbury and now at Hachette, have publicly said that the approach could be beneficial. What Schnittman conceived, though, was not a program along the lines of MatchBook. In a previous story, Schnittman told PW about what he calls the “enhanced hardcover,” a bundle with print and e-book editions of a title offered at a price point 25% higher than the standard hardcover price point. The enhanced hardcover, he felt, would entice consumers, while also working towards the profits of both authors and publishers.

MatchBook is nothing like Schnittman’s enhanced hardcover concept and, for some, the price points it offers are underwhelming. One publisher, talking off the record, said he was nonplussed about MatchBook. He felt the low prices in the program “further devalues e-books,” and makes them “look like a throw-in item.”

. . . .

Agent Robert Gottlieb is even skeptical about whether publishers have the right to submit their books into the program.

Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group, said MatchBook exemplifies “a further erosion of the value of authors’ work.” More importantly, for Gottlieb, is the question of whether a program like MatchBook is covered under existing contracts authors have with publishers. “I don’t believe there are provisions in contracts for this type of arrangement,” Gottlieb said, noting that clauses around digital rights ownership in standard contracts do not cover a transaction like the one proposed by MatchBook.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Abel for the tip.

Here’s a question from PG – If Gottlieb is right and the publishing contracts in question do not grant publishers the right to put books into MatchBook, if those publishing contracts include a broad reservation of rights clause for authors, does that mean Big Publishing’s authors can license Matchbook rights directly to Amazon?

PG thinks that would be cool.

Agents, Amazon, Big Publishing, Ebook Subscriptions

29 Comments to “Are Publishers a Match for Kindle MatchBook?”

  1. “Here’s a question from PG – If Gottlieb is right and the publishing contracts in question do not grant publishers the right to put books into MatchBook, if those publishing contracts include a broad reservation of rights clause for authors, does that mean Big Publishing’s authors can license Matchbook rights directly to Amazon?”

    Interesting point, PG! How would authors license an ebook (which is licensed through the publisher) to amazon unless they did a separate ebook that could be bundled in with print only? Which they probably can’t do since they sold the rights to the ebooks. Not sure how that would work. You know the publishers aren’t going to let the author have the books for nothing. Hmmm…

  2. The enhanced hardcover, he felt, would entice consumers, for just 25% more.

    Does Evan Schnittman understand how many people are out of work, how full-time workers are being cut back to part time (29 hours a week), does he realize how many Americans are on food stamps? People can’t afford hardcovers when they can’t afford food and shelter, and they certainly can’t be enticed or otherwise to pay 25% more. How unthinking and unfeeling these elitists are.

    • Now just hold on a minute, Barbara. let’s be fair about this. I pay an extra 25% for DVDs that include a digital version…wait. Never mind.


    • @Barbara,

      Not sure about that. B&N has some really nice, beautiful special edition books (many in the public domain) at a dedicated table in their bookstores. Yes, I can certainly empathize with tight finances today, but I’m still drooling over some of these books, especially the Jurassic Park/The Lost World edition. Beautiful embossed cover, gilt page edges, and a built-in bookmark. Most of these books are $20, but JP/TLW is $25.

      So far, I’ve resisted the urge to purchase, but I’m finding my resolve weakening as time passes, even though I’ve already got both books in hardcover bought used years ago. Booklust is hard to deny! :(

  3. “In Gottlieb’s eyes, MatchBook does more harm than good for authors, because it takes away a publisher’s motivation to keep an author’s book in print. “It’s not a question of what you’re getting,” he said. “It’s a question of what are you’re giving up.””

    This guy hasn’t thought this through all the way and Gottlieb is looking at it from a strictly trade-pug view, the “What’s in it for the author/publisher?”mindset is keeping him blind to the real advantage of the program. What he should be asking himself is “Will the readers want this?”

    The answer to that is a no-brainer. (You can fill in your own joke here)

    What I’m asking myself right now is who will follow? If Kobo were to offer something similar and couple it with their program that gives indie bookstores a cut of e-book sales this could help save the indie bookstore AND give them more motivation to get their product from indie authors. Not to mention more money for all parties involved.

    I’m trying to find a way for readers to make their own bundles in my online store. So far it’s proving to be a challenge. But then I’m trying to do what’s best for my readers so by Gottlieb’s definitions I must be out of my frickin mind.

  4. PG – I wish! I just ‘matched’ my single self-pubbed print book, but I can’t ‘match’ my four publisher-pubbed print books. I’m helpless. Any suggestions I make about matching or price pulsing or even re-categorizing now that Amazon offers new and more specific categories are met with a stony silence. All of the above would improve sales of my publisher-pubbed books. So far zero interest on their part.

  5. MatchBook is a great idea for consumers and Amazon alike. But Big Pubs may never subscribe to MatchBook, and from my point of view as an Indie Author that’s a good thing, more advantages for us.

  6. The problem continues to be that the publishers *still* haven’t gotten it into their heads that they sell *stories* and *information*, not dead tree pulp.
    And since they have long since outsourced marketting to retailers they are incapable of grasping the promotional and customer-loyalty angles. It’s all “OMG! Somebody is getting a discount!! Off with their heads!!”

    BTW, I seem to remember bundling was one of the things the Feds said they wanted to see, in their legal briefs to Judge Cote. If they do come up with a unified front on this “enhanced” hardcover scam, will they get called on the carpet?

  7. “I don’t believe there are provisions in contracts for this type of arrangement,” Gottlieb said, noting that clauses around digital rights ownership in standard contracts do not cover a transaction like the one proposed by MatchBook.

    I think it should mean what you proposed, PG, but on the other hand publishing contracts are known for being egregious and for attempting to ensure that any rights not specified within end up with the publisher instead of remaining with the authors. I remember seeing a contract from one of the big corporations while I was in grad school at USC–our professor removed identifying information but maintained that it was basically the boilerplate template all tried to use–and it was one of the early moments that made me begin to reconsider pursuing publication with a corporation.

    • Uh, my understanding is if something ISN’T covered in a contract, it’s “open range” for the author to exploit… especially since publishing contracts are supposedly about licensing of specific rights (theoretically, at least).

      Perhaps PG and other lawyers here can comment with expertise on this.

  8. Big Pub, meh.

    I’ve signed both of my paper editions up for MatchBook, and I have 4 more trade paperbacks in my production pipeline. Once they release, I’ll enroll them in the program as well.

    I’m with the readers on this one. I am a reader! I’ve already purchased double editions of my favorite books, because I now prefer reading on an e-reader to reading on paper. But I’d love it, if I could purchase bundles in future. Because I simply must own Bujold, McKinley, and Hambly in paper as well as electronically! :)

  9. Honestly this sounds like “We’re going to refuse to do something we know readers want but make it sound like it is the authors’ fault.”

  10. Product matching. BOGO. 2 for 1.

    More age old, time tested Retail 100 concepts that are completely alien to BPH’s. This isn’t even Retail 101, that’s the follow up class.

    But all I can see now are a lot of old white guys swiveling their throne sized office chairs around to their views of the NYC skyline.

    “Hmm. What’s that evil bastard Bezos up to now?”

  11. I’ve signed up my two paperbacks. This is exactly the sort of program that I (as a reader) have wanted for AGES.

  12. Of course Agent Robert Gottlieb is a prestigious agent and more educated than me on publishing contracts; however, it seems that the publishers *must* have the right to do this, if they have the right to sell ebooks at all. Why would he say that? Because there’s no specific provision for it, I guess, and to leave that option open for his clients to negotiate, I guess. The bottom line is that a publisher now has the right to sell ebooks for any price that is not zero, meaning 99 cents for a single title book. They also have the right to bundle books together, something which I’ve seen many times, even occasionally with the author being vocal about how they’re not happy with it. So, then, why couldn’t they do this? It’s not even a stretch. They can set the price for 99 cents OR they can set the price for 99 cents, if a print version is purchased. Either way, the ebook is being sold and the author should receive their royalty.

    There is really no way a standard pub contract would allow an author to do this on their own. It’s basically selling ebooks. For a profit. Which is exactly the rights granted to publishers, thus my confusion about Gottlieb’s quote.

  13. I think Gottlieb is full of it.

  14. One problem I see for publishers is that they’re often selling e-books for more than a paperback and they make far more profit on them. So they’d be drastically discounting their high-profit products to increase sales on the low-profit products.

  15. I may be missing something … or have some kind of gap in my grasp of all of this – but I find this Kindle MatchBook totally bewildering and surprising for Amazon or publishers to be getting involved in.

    I arrived in work after it was announced and then at a small golf society outing with about 40 old friends during the week. Surprisingly eBooks are quite the conversation among a small subset of them because so many have bought Kindles.

    The main topic of conversation, when it came to reading, was people agreeing to buy books and pass the eBook version to someone else for the $3 or whatever. A while ago we had a discussion about lending – and most agreed that lending was ok to close friends/family but not outside that group. But now that it is an outright sale everyone felt that passing over the ebook completely was perfectly kosher ! Everyone among us believes that it is a SALE situation and not that licensing baloney.

    Why would any author agree to this ? and why would even the dumbest publisher ?

    • maybe the top selling ebook authors can form The United States of Famous Authors and give us entitlements, like foodstamps and section 8s. lol Soon, authors, the many, will be in soup lines. No one can make a living at a restaurant where people regurgitate the food to others over and over. Soon, no more restaurants, just sellers of regurgitations.

      • You can opt out at any time. What difference does it make if someone gives away the kindle or the paper to someone who isn’t aware of you or you pay Bookbub $200+ to run a freebie promo for the same book and you give away 40,000 copies to get some visibility?

        No one is saying you have to be in Kindle Match with your entire library. It’s like a loss leader.

        • Barbara – Yes. I withdraw my ‘complete’ bewilderment :-) Maybe I was a bit tired last night :)
          As a temporary promotional vehicle, this program may well make some sense in the way you describe. As long as the author knows and understands what is happening. But as a long term program I remain unconvinced.

        • Please let us know how it goes for you barbara and how long you invest your work in it. Many will be interested to know what immersion in it is like. Let us know.

  16. Trident Media Group will soon change its name to Pravda.

  17. Amazon’s solution is to take a book you paid for already, and give you an extra format for a bargain price. This clown’s response is to make you pay extra for an already overpriced edition, that you haven’t even bought yet.

    Big Pub 101.

  18. I can see this working with Amazon/audible whispersync. I’m already buying bargain audio versions of books I own on Kindle. So if I buy an ebook version of book I already own in hard copy and then get the audible whispersync, Amazon has managed to convert one sale to three.

  19. I signed up for Matchbook when I got the email. It seems to me that getting more readers is still the goal for many writers.

    Until I can put a clickable link in the back of a print book to allow a reader to immediately buy my other books, (the most successful tactic for more ebook sales) this seems like a great option.

    Perhaps it’s the indie vibe, I’m willing to try all kinds of ideas. I’ll even try some exclusivity programs if they don’t tie me in too long.

  20. FWIW, Ellora’s Cave (a small publisher that started as an ebook publisher) is working with Amazon to put this in place for all its titles. As an author who has several books with them, this is great. Someone buys the print book and gets the option to also purchase the ebook format? Even at a reduced price, it’s more royalties for the author!

    I’m also self-published and have enrolled those titles in the program as well. It’s worth a go to see what comes of it.

  21. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but
    after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr…
    well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!

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