Amazon Upgrades Book Access


Article ImageCan't wait for the kettle to boil? Frantically pushing elevator buttons in a futile attempt to make it come a bit faster? Well, Amazon's Upgrade was made for you. In May, Amazon announced Upgrade, which gives users immediate online access to the entire text of a purchased book at a fee of an additional 10%-20% above a book's list price. It also enables customers to search, annotate, bookmark, and print individual pages, leveraging digital functionality to enhance the book buyer's experience. Amazon Upgrade is built on the same technology as its "Search Inside the Book" program launched three years ago.

Imagine a database manager working from home who needs a specific passage from a technical reference book back at the office to answer an urgent email. With Amazon Upgrade, he can simply log in to his Amazon account and search the online content of the previously purchased book. Another potential user is a student making margin annotations while perusing a book relevant to an upcoming term paper.

The new functionality is aimed at finding the middle ground between publishers who want to maintain control of digital access rights and customers willing to pay for the convenience of content access in multiple formats. It also represents an effort to provide a more publisher-friendly manner of digitizing books than Google Print Library, the controversial program perceived as taking a "digitize first, ask permission later" approach to making print content available online.

Dan Rose, director of digital media at, points out that Amazon's incentives are closely aligned with those of book publishers; indeed, the company included the publishing community in the initial design of the program. "The core value proposition of this program is to make purchase of physical books more attractive to buyers," he says. "Given a choice, buyers are more inclined to buy a version of a book that makes an online version available than one that doesn't." Rose says that every dollar spent on Amazon Upgrade represents incremental revenue for publishers and authors because it augments, rather than replaces, the sale of physical books.

The company says that "tens of thousands" of titles from leading publishers are available through Amazon Upgrade, and cites the participation of eight professional publishers—McGraw-Hill Companies, Holtzbrinck Publishers, Wiley, Springer, Oxford University Press, Pearson, Cambridge University Press, and Elsevier Science and Technology Books—at launch. The program is open to any publisher that wishes to participate. Rose's expectation is that, as with Search Inside the Book, sales data showing the positive impact of program participation on books sold will encourage more publishers to sign up.

Right now Amazon Upgrade is available only to individual book buyers. But its collaborative features make it a natural fit for the business environment. While there are no plans to make corporate multi-user licenses available, Rose points out that "members of a work team who have all purchased the same physical book through Amazon could share their notes and highlights by making them public, allowing them to leverage the collaborative capability of Amazon Upgrade."

Amazon Upgrade is available to book buyers from any internet-enabled PC, and there are no plans to make the digital content portable. Says Rose, "Amazon Upgrade is meant to supplement a physical book purchase; the physical book is the portable version." The program is retroactive, so customers who have previously purchased books from Amazon can go into their Media Library (formerly called "Digital Locker") at any time to see which past purchases may have the Upgrade option. For now, only U.S. customers have access to Amazon Upgrade capabilities.

With Upgrade, Amazon provides digital content access for buyers in a manner that even a publisher can love.