Amazon caused a stir this morning when it announced a two-for-one policy that will give a free digital album to anyone who buys a CD. The policy applies to past purchases — even if you bought the CD 10 years ago — which touched off a flurry of speculation that Amazon might do the same for books.
In this perfect world, Amazon would add free Kindle copies for every book people have ordered through the website, giving loyal customers a digital version of their home library. Alas, the chance of this happening is about as good as 50 Shades of Grey winning the Pulitzer prize.
In a Mashable piece, Lauren Indvik claims the reason is two-fold. First, Amazon has sold far more books than it has CD’s, meaning the cost of providing matching digital versions is likely prohibitive. And second, Amazon doesn’t have a big strategic incentive to do so. Unlike music, where it lags behind Apple and Google, the company is already dominant in digital book retailing and doesn’t need to fight for market share. While the company will do anything it can do to preserve its advantage in books, the more pressing task for Amazon is to keep muscling in on cloud-based music and entertainment services.
This makes sense but to these two reasons, we can add a few more. One is that CD’s are nearly obsolete while books are not — meaning book publishers are unlikely to risk undermining their pricing power through digital bundles. Likewise, unlike books, consumers can easily “rip” CD’s, meaning the music studios are not giving up all that much in the Amazon deal
There is also the question of relationships. While music studios can look to Amazon as an ally and a source of leverage against Apple, many book publishers regard the retail behemoth as a ruthless bully who stomps on them at all turns. The two sides are unlikely to cuddle up for a print-digital partnership. Finally, the nature of book rights mean Amazon would have to get copyright clearance from many individual authors unlike music where studios routinely license whole catalogues.
The bottom line is that consumers may love the idea of a digital library of what they have paid for already — but it’s not going to happen.
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