Bundling Ebooks With Print Versions

Last week Amazon announced a new program that I’ve been waiting for, for a very long time.  It’ called matchbook and it will provide discounted (or free) kindle editions for people who buy the print book. I can’t believe it has taken so long to implement something that seems like such a “no-brainer.”  Here’s how it works. When a publisher makes ebooks available for sale on Amazon, they can set a matchbook price that is at least 50% off the regular ebook price and select either $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free.

Currently the only big-five publisher who has enrolled in matchbook is Harper Collins, and according to Publisher’s Weekly they are doing so in “a limited fashion.” All books from the Amazon Imprints (Montlake, 47 North, Thomas and Mercer, etc.) will be participating in the program, and Amazon has allowed for all the small-press and self-published authors using DTP to participate. I have no idea if my publisher (Orbit who is an imprint of big-five Hachette Book Group) will be participating, and if so, what price point they will select for my books. But I hope they do. My guess is we’ll see a large number of self-published authors taking advantage of this program in one form or another, but few of the mainstream publishers will jump on the bandwagon.

For any books that I have control over the ebook rights, (those that are self-published or for which I’ve negotiated a print-only deal) I will be enrolled in matchbook and selecting free. I firmly believe that if you buy one of my books, you shouldn’t have to pay twice to get it in a slightly different format. Now I fully realize that this decision has a pretty good possibility of impacting my income — and in a negative way. I know many, many readers of my books who have purchased both ebook (for reading) and print books (for sitting on the shelves or for loaning out). So why am I doing this?  Because it is the right thing to do. Doing so will put more money back in reader’s pockets and hopefully they will buy more books — perhaps mine, perhaps some other author’s.

Matchbook was yet another smart move by Amazon, and my hope is that Barnes & Noble and the Independent Book Retailers will implement something similar…and quickly, as they stand to lose even more ground against the 800 lb gorilla. One small publisher, Angry Robot, has already implemented a plan, called Clonefiles, with a very limited number of independent bookstores in the UK where they give away free ebooks for those that purchase print copies.

Of course, what is really needed is the ability to bundle ebooks with print books regardless of where the print book is purchased. No single retailer or publisher can implement such a plan, but it could be done if publishers gave authors the right to distribute free ebooks for titles they own. When I launched the Hollow World Kickstarter I provided a free ebook to everyone who contributed at the print level, but I didn’t stop there. In the front of the print book is a page that tells people how to get their free ebook. Yes, even those getting Hollow World once it is “officially published” can have a free ebook when purchasing the print copy. Basically if they email me a receipt (either a scan or photo of a physical one or by forwarding me their electronic receipt) I’ll provide DRM free ebooks in all file formats so they can read the book on their computer, tablet, smart phone or whatever ereader they like best.

Is this going to be a fair amount of work?  Yes…but for me it is a moral decision and worth the inconvenience of having to push emails once a day. Thanks to the matchbook program, it should be fewer copies than I had originally anticipated.  If it gets to be too cumbersome, I’ll pay one of my children to do it. I should note that there is another author who has done something similar. Brandon Sanderson, who kept the ebook rights to two his novellas (Legion & The Emperor’s Soul), also did this (I’m not 100% sure he still does, but I know he was doing this when both novellas were originally released.)

The problem is that the number of print-only deals is presently very small. In the speculative fiction realm I know of only three: myself, Brandon Sanderson, and Hugh Howey. What we need is more of these kinds of deals. Authors tend to be more conscientious than publisher when it comes to doing what is right for the reader, and those that have control over their ebook rights will have such flexibility. For traditionally published authors, we have no say over such matters and have to toe the company line with whatever the publisher decides. I’m hoping for more of the decision-making to flow down to the authors, as I see there may be more of them, like myself and Brandon, who would implement such programs.

Here’s to hoping.

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  1. Interesting and commendable point Michael. The similar bundling of formats has been successfully used in the movie industry for a while now with movie combo packs available in Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital Copy. Even if this is a marketing tool, as a consumer with multiple DVD player formats in my house, it is an appreciated option.

    I would welcome the same type of bundling option in books. I’m an old school reader who prefers turning real paper pages. But I also find the e-readers a convenient way to carry multiple books when traveling. Unfortunately, I’m bad at planning ahead so I usually end up hauling a bunch of books.

    As a reviewer, this has also become a difficult decision when given a choice of format. I generally lean toward the electronic copy as delivery time is quicker and shipping is nil (my small but heartfelt contribution to the author or publisher’s effort), but I often find myself thinking how I wished I had the print copy in my hands.

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