New Amazon service offers low-cost e-books

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Amazon's new Kindle MatchBook e-reader service may revolutionize the way we purchase some books, but it's too soon to tell whether the idea will be a success.

MatchBook launched Tuesday, sending frequent Amazon shoppers straight to the site to see how many of their previous purchases qualified. Anyone buying a physical book through Amazon.com since its startup in 1995 might be eligible to download its e-book version. Prices range from free to $2.99.

Almost immediately, there were complaints through many online tech sites. Although Amazon is boasting a library of more than 70,000 qualifying titles, many of them seem to be skewed toward -- how shall we say this? -- "lite" reading.

"I guess it only applies to romance novellas for now," wrote poster Darth Something Cool But Evil on www.theverge.com. "None of my more than 30 books that I've purchased since August are eligible ... but Amazon comes around ... usually. The wait begins."

Not a geek responded, "It's not Amazon that has to come around, it's the publishers. Publishers decide which titles to match."

HarperCollins, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Amazon Publishing, Chronicle Books and Marvel are among the early adopters, as well as Kindle Direct Publishing, which specializes in self-published e-books.

"MatchBook enrollment has grown from 10,000 to 70,000 titles in just a few weeks and we expect it will keep expanding rapidly in the months ahead," said Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle Content.

Amazon already offers a similar service for music, AutoRip, that allows CD buyers to receive mp3 versions of their purchases for free.

Early MatchBook complaints have focused on a lack of newer, more popular titles: "5 books out of probably a hundred that I bought since '95. All of them were published at least 10 years ago," wrote Marek on www.engadget.com.

One other qualifier: books purchased through Amazon.com must be direct party copies, not volumes sold via third parties. Since many of the titles are older, they are available in the $8-$10 range, full price, leading many to question whether $2.99 is such a great bargain.

Ann Patchett's "Bel Canto," for example, sells for $9.78 at Amazon. The MatchBook version is $2.99. A savings, to be sure, but nothing remarkable.

The good news is that as more publishers come on board and offerings expand to include more academic and popular choices, features such as Whispersync and X-Ray will be available on the e-book versions.


Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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