Amazon MatchBook makes a big push for print book buyers to go digital

Amazon MatchBook, which lets customers who've previously bought the print edition of a book from Amazon score a digital copy on the cheap, is now open for business.

Months in the making, the new service is a bold plan by Amazon to convert the world's stacks and stacks of books into digital form. At prices that range from free to $2.99 per book (the latter is by far the most common price point), even consumers with very large libraries won't have to spend a fortune to get copies of their old books in Kindle format.

Part of the beauty of MatchBook is how seamlessly it integrates with the Amazon experience and customers' shopping history. By visiting the MatchBook home page (see the link above), it just takes one click for MatchBook to scour your entire Amazon purchase history, dating back to 1995, to turn up all the titles available for the discount.

On the sellers' side, publishers have to opt in to have their books made available for the program, and about 75,000 titles are available for conversion to date. Many bigger publishers are playing it safe for the moment, with HarperCollins the largest mainstream book company in the mix. Harper reportedly has over 9,000 books enrolled in MatchBook, though its focus is heavily geared toward older titles instead of new releases. That, of course, makes sense: Publishers looking to skim a little more profit off of the bestsellers of 1998 aren't going to do it by marking down hardcover copies of those dusty old titles in 2013.

Observers are upbeat about the program, noting that it's a brilliant way for completionists to finish their collections of long series of books and keep them all in one place. For ongoing book series, the plan makes even more sense: If you have the previous five books of a series already in Kindle format, you're probably more likely to keep investing in digital books when the sixth book comes out than if you had to start from scratch. For consumers looking to simplify their shelving -- but unwilling to part with cherished titles, or at least the words inside them -- MatchBook is an even bigger draw.

Of course, Amazon has the most to gain with MatchBook. It's long been locked in a war with a variety of companies (both in the bookselling world and Silicon Valley) over who would own the standard for ebook hardware and the store that sells those books. Amazon's hardware, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Kindle HDX, is currently at the top of the heap. MatchBook is likely to be just one more unique service that helps to keep it there.

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