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

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.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion, Publishing Industry and tagged , , , , .

Michael J. Sullivan has published through all three routes: small press, self publishing, and big-six. His Riyria Revelations has sold more than 340,000 English language copies and has been translated into 15 other languages. His Hollow World Kickstarter campaign raised more than $31,000, making it the highest-earning individual novel in the fiction category at its closing.

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[…] Bestselling author Michael J. Sullivan proposes that publishers give authors permission to send free ebooks to readers who have purchased print editions.  […]

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… Read more »

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.

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… Read more »

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.

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.

Laurie McLean

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

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.

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.

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… Read more »

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. 😀

[…] Many authors are looking warily at Amazon’s new MatchBook feature, but Michael J. Sullivan explains how Matchbook (and other bundles like it) can actually help authors sell more. […]

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

[…] Amazon Matchbook: HowPublishers and Authors Can Work Together  by Jane Friedman @JaneFriedman […]