Amazon offers free ebooks to owners of print books

Keeping up the fire metaphors, the programme is called "MatchBook".

Amazon has announced a new programme offering free and cut-price eBooks to people who have previously purchased print editions from the site. In keeping with the company's literally inflammatory naming convention for their eBook brand, the program will be called "Kindle Matchbook". The company's announcement reads:

For thousands of qualifying books, your past, present, and future print-edition purchases will soon allow you to buy the Kindle edition for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free… going all the way back to 1995 when Amazon first opened its online bookstore.

It is not yet clear whether or when the company will roll out the programme to countries outside the US, but it assuming it can get publishers elsewhere on board, it can only be a matter of time. And as TechCrunch's Darrell Etherington writes:

Amazon is pushing this not only as a great value-add service for users… but also as a way for publishers to get renewed revenue out of a previous sale – making it possible for someone who bought a book up to 8 years ago over again, who might otherwise have been happy to settle for just owning the paper copy could be a source of considerable additional windfall revenue for bookmakers.

In that reading of the service, it occupies a similar niche in the book ecosystem as iTunes Match does for music, encouraging publishers to lift restrictions they would never contemplate in return for an entirely new revenue source.

But it's also a good partner to Amazon's Kindle service overall. One of the stumbling blocks of eBooks has always been that a major potential benefit – not having to store hundreds of books all around your home – takes years to accrue. Even if you go all-digital from the moment you purchase an ereader, there are still all the books you've already bought lying around. Amazon's pitch is that you can use your "Matchbook" to get rid of all of those in one fell swoop. (If the book-burning metaphors make you feel uncomfortable, just imagine what they do to publishers.)

Of course, at another level, it falls into that increasingly full category of "Amazon loss leaders", just like the Kindles themselves do. Amazon's quest to become the biggest company in the world which doesn't make a profit continues.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war