9 December 2013

Amazon Matchbook - Finally!

I don't own a Kindle. I'm not alone in that, but there's a certain peculiarity for me, as I'm a huge fan of technology and also of reading, so Amazon's marketers would expect me to be first in line.

But I never have been.

Not that I don't understand the appeal or the benefit - in 2011 I spent 6 months in America with my then-girlfriend (then fiance, then wife), and our shared appreciation of books meant we spent a fair amount of time in Barnes & Noble. Buying books. I purchased a few hardbacks and some paperbacks, all of which were quickly enjoyed. Then came the day of packing to board the plane and suddenly those hardbacks didn't seem like such a wise investment - they took up considerable space, but also, worse, valuable weight. Adopting the "We never leave a man behind" military approach I got each book home safely, tucked away into their appropriate places in the bookcase.

Shortly after, I bought my wife a Kindle, as she decided she wanted one. I saw the benefit - especially after that flight - but I wasn't ready to part with real books. I'm still not. Given the choice, I will buy a CD over a digital song purely for the fact that I enjoy the aesthetics and the effort that went into the liner notes and images. Music and books still represent art to me, total products, and increasingly the digital world seemed to be devaluing them to me, reducing the total products to commodities.

Romantic ideals aside, I wasn't ready for a Kindle for other reasons - I like scanning my bookshelf and having a title jump out at me, I enjoy flicking through a book, I like the smell and texture. I like books. The digital copies don't accommodate those facets, and I haven't been ready to sacrifice them for portability and convenience.

I could buy real ones and digital ones

I could, but I wouldn't (I am, however, more open to that now). What I never understood is why there wasn't the same solution for books there is for music and film - buy the physical thing and get the option to have the digital files too. Amazon couldn't do it because of the rights, and it seems publishers were too stubborn and felt it would undermine their business model - which has been eroding beneath them anyway. I'm a strong believer that if a consumer buys a product, they should be able to consume it in the way they desire, and not need to buy it multiple times. I was ecstatic when I bought a DVD one day and found a sticker explaining I could watch it on my electronic devices too, just like we've been enjoying with CDs for years

Welcome Amazon Matchbook

Finally, the publishing world has caught up. I read this wonderful news last week, and if you haven't yet heard of it, the gist of it is this: Matchbook will let you get digital copies of books you already own for up to $3 (and as little as nothing). It's not quite as good as the way it works with music and films, but it's a leap in the right direction. There's now a solution for people like me - buy the physical book, and enjoy the digital version for convenience (or, if you're very particular, read the digital one and keep the physical one in pristine condition. Maybe one day books will be so rare they'll be hugely expensive collectibles).

The bad news is that this is only in America for now, and most books aren't on it. But given that Amazon is behind it, it shouldn't be long before both of those things change. As soon as it hits the UK, my publishing company will be placing our books to Matchbook, so our customers can enjoy the books in both formats without having to pay out for both.

This new development is great for the consumer, and also great for the industry. With any luck it will end the arguments of whether or not 'real' books will die to digital books, and we can get down to what really matters: enjoying the output of the hard-working authors in whatever format we choose. It could also prove to be a big boost to the publishing industry - an indication that it will stop seeing digital books as the enemy and embrace them as a way to sell more copies, reach a wider audience, and increase its bottom line.

As I see it, writers, readers and publishers have a shared interest of appreciating literature, and Matchbook makes it easier for all three to come closer together.