I’ve long contended that if I’ve already bought a book in print, I shouldn’t have to pay the full price for the ebook. It seems that finally, a few programs are trying out that idea.
First there’s Amazon, whose Kindle MatchBook program lets you buy ebooks at reduced prices if you purchased the print book from Amazon. There’s a catch, of course — two, in fact. The publisher has to have authorized a reduced-price ebook for that particular title. No publisher so far has authorized their entire backlist, and new books are hardly ever included. The other catch is that if you designated the book as a gift, it doesn’t count. Oh, and of course there’s the little matter of format — you can only get Kindle ebooks.
I’ve bought hundreds of books from Amazon over the years (yes, truly. Our nearest bookstores are a half-hour away by car — not always convenient or even feasible, depending on my schedule.) Of that number, only 21 titles are available through the MatchBook program. Granted, I’ve taken advantage of a few of those, and a new one just popped up, but clearly the program hasn’t garnered widespread publisher support. (I hope there’s a “yet” on the end of that last sentence, but we’ll have to wait and see.)
Now there’s a new kid on the block. BitLit is a start-up backed by 3 Angels, a venture capital firm headed by the guy who founded Kobo, Michael Serbinis. BitLit’s premise is clever: you prove you own a print copy by writing your name on the copyright page of a book you own. Then you take a photo of that page, upload the image using BitLit’s app, and the publisher will either discount the ebook or give it to you free. Sounds great, doesn’t it? (source: GoodEReader)
The major drawback of BitLit for consumers is that so far, not one of the major (fiction) publishers has signed on. BitLit already has 85 publishers on board, including O’Reilly and Osprey Press, but as I entered author after author from my shelves into the search field, nothing came up. And the books shown on BitLit’s “latest” page are obscure, to say the least.
One obvious problem that may keep the big publishers from participating in BitLit is that unlike Kindle MatchBook, BitLit has no way of verifying whether you actually bought the book, let alone whether you bought it new. Since books fall under the first sale doctrine, publishers (and authors) only make money on new books (i.e., books sold for the first time.) Publishers may be reluctant to let readers buy a reduced-price or free ebook when the publisher has no way of knowing whether it actually collected any money from that reader in the first place.
Arguably, it might still be in publishers’ interest to allow the reduced-price ebook sale. Even if the book was purchased used, or given to the reader, there presumably was a first sale for that copy at some point. Furthermore, plenty of readers may be unwilling to spend $6 to $9 to duplicate a book they already own by purchasing the full- or near-full-price ebook, but might be happy to do so for $1.99. In other words, the publisher probably wouldn’t get the ebook sale at all if the owner of the print copy had to pay full price for the ebook, but at a reduced price, the publisher makes at least some money.
BitLit co-founder and CEO Peter Hudson suggests that publishers are interested in BitLit’s service for several reasons. It may also be a boon for brick-and-mortar bookstores. Book discoverability is better in B&M stores than online, but many customers want the option to buy the print and ebook versions together. With BitLit’s smartphone app, customers could purchase the book from a local bookstore and almost immediately get the ebook through BitLit. (source: TechCrunch)
It will be interesting to see how these two programs, Kindle Matchbook and BitLit, play out, and whether the large publishing houses decide that half a loaf is better than none when it comes to potential ebook sales. I hope that someday I can get affordable ebook copies of books I already own and love. . . but I’m not holding my breath.