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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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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