Self-Publishing on a Shoestring: Amazon's Matchbook Program

There's a lot of buzz right now about Amazon's Matchbook Program. But only one traditional publishing house is willing to try it -- and only on a limited basis. So, where does that leave indie authors, who are wondering whether or not they should jump in?
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There's a lot of buzz right now about Amazon's Matchbook Program. But only one traditional publishing house is willing to try it -- and only on a limited basis. So, where does that leave indie authors, who are wondering whether or not they should jump in?

In the catbird seat.

The way the Matchbook program works, is if customers buy a print copy of a book in the program, they get a deeply discounted or free Kindle version of the same book. It's similar to what Amazon has been doing with their audiobooks, where anyone who buys an e-book, can order a deeply discounted audiobook version, as well.

As a customer, I love this idea. When I find a favorite book, I get greedy. I want the hard copy, the e-book and the audiobook. That way, I can read it at home, I can take it on the go with my Kindle, and I can listen to it in the car. Getting deeply discounted prices is a great deal.

What traditional publishing houses would prefer, however, is something called enhanced hardcovers, where they bundle the more expensive hardcover books with an e-book, for a 25 percent greater charge. So, if you purchased a new hardcover release for $25.00, you could choose to pay an additional $6.25 to receive the e-book as well. If you purchase the much cheaper paperback, all you get is the paperback.

With Amazon's Matchbook program, if you purchase the paperback, you can have the e-book included, for any price-point between $0 and $2.99, depending on what the standard price of the e-book is, and which discount level the author has selected. For instance, if the e-book normally costs $1.25, the bundled e-book would be free. But if the e-book normally costs $6.99, you'd be able to get it for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99 or free, depending on what price the author's selected.

It's not as lucrative a deal for traditional publishing houses as enhanced hardcovers would be, but they tend to be a little on the greedy side anyway. However, it's a great deal for customers and it could be very profitable for indie authors.

While indie authors have the market cornered on e-book pricing, traditional publishing houses own the print book market. Prior to Matchbook, there has been no way for an indie author to be competitive with their print book pricing.

Indies who want to distribute outside of Amazon get hit with a high distribution fee per copy. So not only do they have to raise the price of their books to cover the costs of expanded distribution - frequently pricing themselves completely out of the market - they also make a much lower royalty on those books. For instance, I have a print book that makes $1.37 royalty on Amazon, but that same book, when it's ordered from Barnes & Noble, only brings in a .12 cent royalty.

Since indies have a higher per copy cost, they get worse distribution deals, and they can't run at a deficit, their print books tend to be priced much higher than most authors want them to be. So, anything that brings added value to those print books for customers, can only benefit indie authors.

How so? Well, let's assume you're making a $2 royalty on your e-books, and a $4 royalty on your print books. Most customers will purchase the cheaper e-book. However, Matchbook encourages readers to buy the print book and bundle it with a discounted or free e-book. So, say your royalty on your discounted e-book is $1. Instead of that original $2 royalty e-book sale, you're now getting a $5 royalty for the bundled sale.

And, best of all, authors do not have to be exclusive to Amazon, in order to enroll their books in the Matchbook program. And for indies who are only publishing e-books, Amazon's Matchbook program is an incentive to get print versions of their books up and running.

This is a smart move on Amazon's part. Not only will the added value incentivize customers to purchase their print books via Amazon, thereby resulting in increased royalties for indies, it will also give indie authors a way to promote their books to their fan bases, without feeling like they're shilling. Offering readers a great deal is much easier, and more effective, than hammering 'buy my book' messages at them. As one of my author friends says, now she can tell her fans to buy the print book as a gift, and get the e-book for free.

Whenever Amazon introduces a new program, they tend to promote it hard. Which means the best time to get in, is at the beginning. Authors who jumped into the Select program when it was first introduced benefited a great deal more than indies who waded in a year later. Now, I don't think the Matchbook program will be as lucrative as Select, but it's bound to increase paperback sales, which will translate to increased income.

Over the last few years, Amazon has shown an incredible ability to monetize its indie authors. In return, indie authors have been bringing Amazon billions of dollars in profits. While its competitors are still trying to figure things out, Amazon has been systematically carving up and dominating every book-related niche. They started with monetizing indies and then signing them to exclusive deals. They moved on to audiobooks and now they're moving into print books.

Amazon has been so incredibly successful because it gives customers the best deal while making it easier and more lucrative for authors to offer their books through Amazon's programs, than any other distributor is either willing or able to do. I seriously recommend getting in on the ground floor whenever Amazon rolls out a new program.

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