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Amazon Should Definitely Expand AutoRip to Books

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Now that there's no difference between buying a CD and buying a digital album, let's continue to blur the line between physical and digital purchases.

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Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) made news today by announcing a service called "AutoRip," a tool that allows anyone who has ever purchased an album through the site to download a free digital copy. The announcement has been met with optimism among those who see the potential for a return to album-based sales rather than track-based sales, as well as those who believe Amazon's sales may improve because customers will see every music purchase as a 2-for-1 deal.

Over the past few years, the rise of e-readers and tablets has made the e-book industry a booming one, and it would make sense for Amazon to do something similar with books. People like CDs and LPs not just because of their high fidelity but because of their visual component as well; a big record collection is far more impressive to look at than an iTunes library twenty times the size.

The same holds true for books; visually, a well-stocked Kindle is no substitute for even the simplest bookcase. Furthermore, 90% of people who read e-books also read printed books, meaning that there would be a large market interested in getting the 2-for-1 deal.

This idea has been around for years, of course; until now, it's mostly been kicking around various message boards at Amazon and Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS). With the announcement of AutoRip, though, the idea has been put forward by everyone from anonymous Twitter users to Buzzfeed editor Matt Buchanan. Should Amazon listen to the people?

Well, it's hard to see why not, frankly. At this point, while there are plenty of consumers who read both formats at one time or another, there aren't too many who buy both formats at once, which means that the opportunity cost of offering such an option is extremely low. Also, while Amazon can only offer AutoRip on a handful (okay, 50,000 is a little more than a handful) of albums, there's no reason it couldn't offer the deal for every book in its Kindle library.

There's another reason that Amazon should offer this, though, and here it is: It's becoming increasingly clear that e-books are not going to replace printed books. They just aren't.

According to a survey by Bowker Market Research, 59% of Americans say they have no interest in buying an e-book, and sales of e-books and e-readers slowed in 2012. A recent Pew study showed that while 89% of regular readers read at least one paper book last year, only 30% of the same group read at least one e-book.

Is this evidence that America prefers printed books? Of course not; e-readers are so much less common than printed books that the previous statistic says little about the reading habits of the average reader. What it does say, though, is that as complex as our e-reader technology gets, there is a seemingly permanent market for real, physical books.

The sooner Amazon and other book retailers understand that buying a book should never involve a question of format, the better for them.
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