Amazon MatchBook: How Publishers and Authors Can Work Together to Sell More


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Kindle Matchbook

When Amazon announced their Kindle MatchBook program earlier this month, I’m sure I’m not the only person who thought, “It’s about time!”

For the past three years, I’ve watched the industry numbers, and the continuing erosion of print book sales has me worried about the future of print. To me the solution has been obvious: Provide a free ebook for anyone who purchases a print edition. I knew it would be Amazon or Barnes & Noble who would adopt this first (my money was on Amazon as they tend to be more proactive).

So it was with exuberance—but then immediate frustration—that I read the announcement, because I realized that for most of my titles, it probably won’t make a difference. It will be up to my publisher (an imprint of Hachette Book Group) to ultimately determine if this feature is implemented for my titles.

Luckily, I’m in control of the ebook rights for my most recent title, Hollow World. I sold the print rights to Tachyon Publications, the audio book rights to Recorded Books, and I kept the ebook and subsidiary rights. My plan was, and is, to provide all the popular ebook formats in DRM-free files to anyone who e-mails me a copy of their receipt. Now, because of MatchBook, I’ll have far fewer requests to process, as I’ve enrolled it and set the price to free. But I’m going beyond MatchBook by making free ebooks available no matter where the print book is purchased. This will give independent bookstores and the remaining chains such as Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million a fighting chance against Amazon.

What makes such a program possible is the “print-only deal” which is all so rare in today’s current publishing environment. The only authors that I’m aware of who have signed such deals are Bella Andre, Coleen Hoover, Hugh Howey, Brandon Sanderson (for his novellas Legion & The Emperor’s Soul), and myself. Three of those five are New York Times bestsellers with more than a million books sold. The fourth is from an author with more than 600,000 sales and a movie deal with Ridley Scott. The fact that I (a solid mid-list author) have been able to secure print-only is encouragement that these deals are working their way more broadly into publishing, but I still think these types of contracts will be few and far between.

But there is another alternative—if publishers would permit their authors the right to distribute (not sell) ebooks with proof-of-print-book purchase, then we can provide this capability to all print purchases, regardless of the venue they were bought in. Even publishers who don’t want to enroll all their titles into Kindle MatchBook can selectively try out programs on a book-by-book or author-by-author basis. I see this as a win-win for all parties involved.

  • Publishers will see higher print sales and increased reader loyalty by showing they are putting the reader’s well-being first.
  • Authors will benefit from higher discoverability as purchasers can loan out their print books while reading the ebook.
  • Readers will not have to choose between print and ebook, and for those who generally buy both, they’ll have more money to spend on additional titles and grow the overall book market.

For those publishers who are afraid this would hurt their sales, I’d like to offer up Angry Robot, who ran a pilot program in August 2012 with a number of independent bookstores, as an example. They saw their sales triple and have now officially rolled out their Clonefiles program in the United Kingdom and will soon be expanding it to the United States.

The music industry already provides for downloads when purchasing CDs or vinyl albums. DVDs bundle high-definition and standard resolution copies. So it just makes sense that the book industry should get on board and provide both print and ebooks together. To create the infrastructures for publishers and sales venues to do this themselves would be a herculean task, but it could be easily implemented by allowing the author to shoulder the burden. All that would be required is a simple contract addendum.

Will all authors be willing to take on the burden of sending emails? Of course not, but for those that do feel strongly enough to provide such a service to their readers, it seems like a reasonable way to bring this feature about not in six months, or a year or two years, but now.

Until such a program exists, I’ll continue doing it myself and hope that it catches on with other authors who control their ebook rights. It’s the right thing to do, and I firmly believe that the authors and publishers that put the readers’ wishes first will be the ones that continue to thrive even as the industry continues its rapid and turbulent change.

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  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    I love that. Frankly I’m ok paying a dollar or two for the ebook if I bought the print book years ago but bundling the two with the ebook as free is wonderful. I doubt we will see many of the big 5 offering the ebooks for free as they are very busy telling us how expensive ebooks are to make & why ebooks cost more than paperbacks. Maybe Amazon should do the match the other way also “bought an ebook get the print book for a discount”. This might encourage people to buy new instead of used books if they’ve paid $9.99+ on an ebook.

    Great thoughts and congrats on keeping your ebook rights.

  • http://www.blog.charmcitylegal.com/ Kathryn Goldman

    I can see why traditional publishers aren’t interested in being part of MatchBook. They view it as another way that Amazon is cornering the market on readers. If I buy the print edition at my local bookstore, I can’t get the e-book for free or a reduced price through MatchBook. I have to buy the print book from Amazon to get the e-book. The traditional publishers do not want to encourage all the traffic going to Amazon. They are short-sighted and behind the curve on many of these issues. They’re stymied, they don’t know how to react.

    I do like your perspective about what the individual authors can do here. I have had more conversations (twitter, e-mail, Goodreads) with actual authors in the past year than I’ve ever had. I would happily scan my receipt and send it to you (or any author for that matter) for the e-book. Authors need to hang on to their e-book rights.

  • Laurie McLean

    To me, this is the future of publishing. Give the readers what they want for a fair price. Simple.

  • http://lexacain.blogspot.com/ Lexa Cain

    Thanks for explaining the upside of the print-only deal. It sounds like a smart idea and I’m sure it’ll work out very well for you.

  • michaelsullivan

    I agree Tasha, I don’t think many of the big-five will participate at all – and those that do will probably choose $2.99 rather than free. It’s interesting that you mentioned the other way around. I didn’t put it in this post, but I do have plans to offer print books for those who start of in ebook. I can’t do it for free as there is a cost involved but I will be able to discount 15% – 20%.

  • michaelsullivan

    Hanging onto the e-book rights is the goal of most/many self-published authors. The print-only deals are far and few between. I’m glad that I was able to snag one of them. For the most part it’s the self-published (who of course own both print and ebook) that will (imo) enroll in Matchbook.

    As for publishers not wanting to send more traffic toward Amazon – that’s even more reason why they should adjust the contracts to allow their authors to do this. That way people buying from Banes and Noble or an independent bookstore will get the same benefit and not have to drive a sale to Amazon.

  • michaelsullivan

    The people and organizations that put “readers first” should come out on top. It’s only those that are interested in squeezing every penny out of every reader that will, in the long run, regret their short-shortsightedness – at least that’s how I see it.

  • michaelsullivan

    I think there are many upsides to the print-only deal – this being just one of them. The problem is most publishers won’t consider anything but print/ebook and usually audio as well. I’m hoping that some will prefer a piece of the pie (print-only) rather than none of the pie – if they don’t adjust the ebook royalties.

  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    15-20% discount is cool. Sounds like we think alike.

    I have a few of your books to read and review. Planning some Goodreads group reads I hope in the next couple months.

  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    Hopefully the other stores will see the benefit of bundling and start offering it.

    Bookish is a kinda, sorta, publisher run store, this should be something they jump on and run with to encourage people to switch to buying from them instead of other retailers.

    Bundling could be done with other media. As I mentioned above ebook 1st get discount print book. But you could do discounts on paperback if bought hard copy. Discount audio. Add on special short stories or authors commentary.

  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    I think if more authors are willing to walk away if they won’t do print only it will become more standard. Back around the time Belle Andre was signing her deal (when no one knew about it) I was talking about self-publishers making deals conditional and was told “no publishing house would go for it” and “no author would really be willing to walk away”. Well it turns out smart authors are insisting on keeping control & some publishers want the print enough to do the deal. Surprise.

  • michaelsullivan

    Nice – that would be fantastic – I love goodreads group reads.

  • michaelsullivan

    Yeah I was waiting and waiting for bookish – I think it was delayed by a few years. I haven’t seen it getting much legs yet. I actually thought they should announce that – plus DRM-free books to give them a leg up. I’ve not seen it gain much traction as of yet. Have you?

  • michaelsullivan

    Aye. But the are still far and few between: Bella, Coleen Hoover, Hugh Howey, Brandon Sanderson, myself. I’m not aware of any others. I’m really surprised H.M. Ward wasn’t offered one. But I think you are right it takes the author making it clear that ebooks are totally off the table to make them happen.

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  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    Nope I’ve been less than impressed with the site, recommendations, and the weekly “personalized” email I get. They really need to spend some time talking to reader focus groups so they start thinking like a retailer instead of “publishers bypassing retailers” but not offering much of actual interest to readers. The most interesting feature are the interviews but I can get those on blogs. They don’t offer discounts, bundling, the interface is lacking in usability, it’s too bad given how long and how much they spent on it.

  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    I know authors that if the offer were made I think could keep there head. That’s 5 since I made my prediction it would start happening. In the publishing world that might be rapid change. Doesn’t John Locke also have a print only deal?

    I think authors have to ask for it and make it a deal breaker and not everyone will, I was surprised David Daglish didn’t go that route.

    I really think have control of ebook pricing is critical for authors. If you are selling well enough that you are being approached why hand over what you excel at?

  • michaelsullivan

    We are in total agreement on all points

  • michaelsullivan

    John Locke…sortta kinda. It’s not a print-only deal. What he did was contract S&S to do his fulfillment, so it was more of him hiring them not them signing him…if that makes any sense.

    David is published through Orbit (the same publisher as the bulk of my books) I don’t think they would go for such an arrangement. So it would be a deal breaker for them. He could have done what I have, go to a smaller publisher like Tachyon and keep the ebook rights, but I think there is a benefit for him being with a lager publisher like Orbit for his jump to traditional. I think he made a good decision for himself and his career.

    Right now, giving up the ebook rights is the price most have to pay to sign with the big-five – unless you have sales levels like Colleen, Bella, and Hugh (and Hugh’s sales weren’t as high as theirs but it had a movie deal which elevated it).

    What it tells me is that the larger publishers failing to make print-only deals will leave a door open for the smaller publishers to pick up titles they wouldn’t normally get. I think they can still make good money off of just print and I’m going to do all in my power to make Tachyon a success with my book in the hopes that it, and other smaller publishers will do more of this.

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  • http://tasha-turner.com/ Tasha Turner

    I did not know that about Locke. That makes more sense.

    I wondered about David. I think he’s going to do well and it’s a great opportunity for him.

    Love your plan with Tachyon. :D

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