You've Got Match!

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Finally, Amazon's got iTunes Match, er, Kindle Match, er, MatchBook. Yes, the name "matchbook" works well as a double entendre for matching the book and a "book of matches" that can light (or "kindle") a fire. At the same time, they are clearly treading the well-worn path that Apple set with iTunes Match. Hopefully, it will work a little better from the outset.

Unlike iTunes Match, Amazon is not about storing the books you already have on your Kindle from other sources. Amazon does not really like to admit that such sources might exist, whereas the iPod (and eventually iPhone and iPad) started as devices that held music from alternate sources (ripped CDs, primarily) and only eventually the iTunes Store.

Rather, Amazon is offering a relatively cheap way to get books you have already purchased in physical version (from Amazon, of course) onto your Kindle.

Unfortunately, the pickings are still slim, although that is bound to improve over time. I have bought several thousand books from Amazon over the years, between business, personal and gifts, and as of right now, the grand total available for MatchBook is... 12! The pricing model also is not great. Many of the books are available for "$2.99 or less". But if I have bought 100 books at $10-20 each in physical, I am not about to spend another $300 (!) to get the copies on my Kindle.

I suspect that the pricing is due to restrictions from publishers who are, in many ways, more hidebound than the notorious music industry. Both fought digital distribution tooth and nail. Yet, in the end, the music industry understands that it is about content consumption, and CDs are a digital format. The publishing industry, on the other hand, still believes it is selling books, not content.

What are Amazon's motivations?

  1. More Kindle: The more people see value in their Kindle - and now they can use it even for books they have bought physically - the more they will buy Kindles and Kindle content.
  2. Piracy: Movies are big files, music files are moderately size, but books are tiny. An entire book can often be 200KB, less than 10%, which makes their distribution on the Internet significantly easier. And unlike music, people often feel strongly justified in downloading books: "I already bought the hardcopy, I just want it on my Kindle!"

I believe that this service is well overdue. People who still buy physical books (yours truly included) actually want those books on their Kindles for travel and other purposes. However, they are likely to be unwilling to pay even $1, $2 or $3 for it after having spent $10-20 or more on the physical book. Ironically, I am not wholly convinced this will work. Seeing that the book is available for $2.99 may convince many who otherwise hadn't thought of it to get it for "free" off the Internet.

Apple got people to pay with iTunes Match by selling not the content, which users felt they already owned, but the availability of the content across devices, even if the end-goal was getting users to pay for the content. Amazon needs to find a way to get those books to them for (actual or perceived) free.

One path would be to offer the Kindle version for free with every physical book purchase, either to those with a registered Kindle, or those who pay an annual $9.99 subscription free, and a one-time $20 fee for all books purchased prior to the availability of MatchBooks.

Let's see how MatchBooks play out.