Just after Labor Day, Amazon announced the October debut of Kindle MatchBook. “For thousands of qualifying books,” purchased new in print going back to 1995, said the company website, customers can get “the Kindle edition for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free.” Publishers and authors can opt in to the program, but currently only a tiny fraction of Amazon titles are available.
In September, Morgan James Publishing, which focuses on business and self-help titles, began to offer a free or discounted ebook with every print title purchased via a partnership with BitLit, a Canadian smartphone app company. I asked BitLit CEO and founder Peter Hudson if the deal applied to library-purchased titles as well. “In theory this would be up to the publisher,” he said via email. He noted, however, “Our standard terms for the distribution of companion ebooks are that they are for personal use and do not include redistribution rights, etc.” So even if a library could get a free ebook with its purchase, the electronic copy couldn’t circulate.
Initially the company also detailed on its website policies that would guarantee publishers that their works would only go to individuals who purchase print titles for their own use, not borrow them from a library. The verification process includes validating that the title is “real” and “not a library copy.” First the purchaser must take a photo of the book cover and send it to BitLit; then he/she must sign the copyright page and send that along, too. In return, the consumer can “claim” the ebook in whatever format is preferred.
BitLit also stated that it uses smartphone GPS to confirm that the book’s purchaser is sending from his/her home billing address to prevent library borrowers or bookstore browsers from claiming a free book. The company’s “book detection computer vision algorithms” would recognize “common library markers” like Dewey decimal numbers on the book’s spine. In the event a library borrower signs the copyright page, thereby defacing it, said BitLit, the company would be able to ID the person by matching BitLit records with library borrowing records (which the library would presumably share—privacy concerns anyone?). And that person would “compensate the library…for their damaged hard copy” and the publisher for any lost revenue. Though the website was simplified in early September, eliminating the specifics about libraries, the policies remain in effect, said Hudson.
PM titles available but…
Another company that offers an ebook bundle is PM Press, which publishes mostly radical nonfiction, “subculture stuff,” said cofounder Craig O’Hara. While most of its library sales go through wholesalers, O’Hara told LJ libraries can set up a user name and user account on the website to purchase via credit card, which initiates the free download. “When someone buys a [paper] book, [they] click on a link and get an instant email, saying ‘available for download,’ ” he said. However, that is only useful to libraries that host their own ebook servers, and so far only a handful of U.S. libraries do so.
Despite being a proponent of e-bundling, O’Hara said he hopes it will encourage readers to buy print. “We spend a lot of time (and money) getting our books to look good, feel good, and read good, and [we] want readers to have the improved experience of reading the hard copy. We also want to encourage print publishing overall and all that book culture encompasses: traditional graphic arts printers, indie bookstores, libraries, even collectors.” Beyond that, O’Hara pointed out that direct sales bring more money to PM Press and to authors.
Bundling poses a challenge to libraries, not only because they’re often either not eligible for the freebies/discounts or not set up to receive ebooks or distribute them. It also drives user expectations of getting print and ebook editions simultaneously. That may be the bigger challenge.