Prostitution and hunter/gatherer notwithstanding, I would venture a guess that writer and musician are two of civilization’s oldest careers. I would also guess that this is the first time, over centuries of these professions, that a writer walked into the living room to ask her musician husband about the wisdom of bundling her ebook with the sale of her physical book at a discounted. And for that musician to respond, “Just as long as it’s not free. Free is what ruined music.”
We live in strange times, is what I’m saying. It’s interesting to be doing something that people have been doing for so long but in a totally different way with so many different options. It involves making a lot of decisions about a tried and true business that are neither tried nor even necessarily true. And as Mike pointed out has happened with music, if we as indie authors or the larger publishing industry make poor choices, things can get really screwed up.
So here’s the question of day: Amazon Matchbox. Is it great news? Or is it just some news? Or is it terrible news? It was announced yesterday that this new program will allow people who buy books from Amazon – or have bought them there in the last decade or so – to get the ebook version of their purchases at a steep discount. I can see that there’s no apparent downside for authors on this, but the large-scale upside isn’t wildly apparent either. Yes, it’s an extra buck-ish a book. That’s a definite upside. But I wonder if, similar to the Napster/Pandora/Spotify effect in the music industry, there’s a larger, industry-wide impact of which we should be wary.
To be clear, I’m not saying there is. To be clearer, I’ve already signed my book up for Amazon Matchbook, and my instinct is to be pretty excited about it. (My Amazon royalties are actually higher on ebooks than they are on my physical book. So if people add on that cheap ebook when they buy my physical book, they’ll essentially boost the royalty to ebook level). I do think, however, it’s worth analyzing.
To me, it all comes down to this: will consumers use this program as a way to get two books for the price of one? Will they keep the ebook and give the book away as a gift? And if they do, will that be a good thing that gets my work farther out into the world (yay!!), or will it cut my total number of sales in half (boo!!)? We believe that giving music away for free was just part of the new music economy too. Now no one will pay for music, and musicians are pretty sad about that, unless they’re Lady Gaga. And how will this impact indie bookstores? Can they start offering ebook downloads too without sinking further into the oblivion?
I don’t know, guys. I guess there isn’t really a way to know until we do it. I’m betting publisher-backed books will be impacted differently than indie books, but in what way also remains to be seen. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but what about being a professional writer isn’t? And by nerve-wracking, I mean exciting. In the many centuries that writers have written, there hasn’t been a moment like this since Gutenberg. With the entire industry being turned on its head, it’s a great time to be writing and publishing. I think. I hope.