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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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.