Amazon is testing how many book lovers enjoy the convenience of ebooks but hang on tight to the nostalgia of turning the crisp pages in a print book — and are willing to pay for both.
The online retailer announced on Tuesday Kindle MatchBook, a new program that lets customers buy the electronic versions of books they have already purchased in print form. The ebooks are significantly discounted — about $1 to $3 — or free. MatchBook customers can also buy discounted Kindle editions of books they bought as far back as 1995, the year Amazon.com went live.
The new program suggests that some consumers, even those with tablets and smartphones that can power all their reading needs, still crave the look and feel of print books.
Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle Content, told The New York Times that said one of the most common requests from Kindle customers was they wanted a way to build identical print and digital book libraries. He added that many Kindle fans want print editions as souvenirs, momentos and art objects.
The New York Times also says that the success of the program hinges on whether book publishers embrace it. So far, Amazon has agreements from only a couple of major publishers to offer their titles on MatchBook.
The announcement of MatchBook overlaps with the release of the second-generation Kindle Paperwhite, which Amazon unveiled on its website. The new reader — ready to shop Sept. 30 — is said to have a new lighting system, a screen with a higher resolution and a more responsive touch interface, and new software such as Kindle Free Time.
MatchBook isn’t the only way Amazon is trying to cater to the print aficionados among its Kindle customers. The Seattle-based company recently began sending out email notifications to ebook buyers that they will soon receive refunds — part of a settlement from the recent federal ebook price-fixing case — and can use the cash to buy print books. Amazon customers will get refunds up to about $3 for most ebooks purchased between April 2010 and May of 2012. The credit can go to their Kindle account or sent as a check in the mail, and can be put towards the purchase of digital books or print copies.
The refunds are the result of a ruling by a U.S. District Court in New York that found Apple and five major publishers guilty of colluding to raise ebook prices. The publishers settled, but Apple is still fighting the case.
Experts have called the ebooks ruling a victory for Amazon, which is now free to dominate the ebook market while Apple will be held back by heightened scrutiny from regulators and court-imposed penalties. But maybe the print book enthusiasts — those who delight in stiff page turns, comfort in a full bookshelf and enjoyment turning a hardcover over in their hands once in a while — are also winners.