Amazon.com announced last week that it will finally offer readers the possibility to customize books from various publishers. Building on its "Search Inside the Book" technology, which allows customers to search the complete interior text of hundreds of thousands of books, the company is currently developing two new programs that will enable customers to purchase online access to any page, section, or chapter of a book, as well as the book in its entirety.
Amazon thus is finally offering on a retail level what innovative publishers like MetaText, Cinado.com, Symposion or Addison Wesley have done since years: Providing readers the opportunity to purchase just the pages they really need. What might be not a good idea for novels, is great for edited books or also many trade books, where often the first and last chapter are giving you 80% of the information you want to know.
Indeed, also my most recent book on mass customization and open innovation has been published in this manner (in German language: "Mass Customization und Kundenintegration: Neue Wege zum innovativen Produkt", co-authored by Frank Piller and Christof Stotko, 2003). This was the first customizable book on mass customization. The book's first part discusses the implementation of a mass customization strategy and extends the concept towards open innovation. Readers can order all chapters of this book separately (here, of course, the 80% rule mentioned before does not apply).
The second part of our book consists of more than 25 case studies and plenty of additional expert chapters on specific parts of the book. These chapters can be identified with an easy, but useful configurator, helping readers to decide which chapter is fitting best to their needs (more information on the book: http://www.mass-customization.de/ibook.htm, the configurator can be found here: http://www.symposion.de/msc/inhalt.htm).
So, while Amazon's announcement is nothing new, it will affect the market for customization in the book sector enormously as it will offer readers a one-stop-shopping and combine customization with Amazon's market power.
In one of the planned offerings, called "Amazon Pages", the physical-world experience of buying and reading a book will be "un-bundle" so that customers can simply and inexpensively purchase and read online just the pages they need. For example, an entrepreneur interested in marketing his or her business could purchase the relevant chapters from several best-selling business books.
A second program, "Amazon Upgrade," will allow customers to "upgrade" their purchase of a physical book on Amazon.com to include complete online access. For example, a software developer who buys a Java programming book will not only get the physical book delivered to his or her home, but will also get Web access to the complete text of the book. Buy a cookbook and you will not only have it on your shelf, but also be able to access it anywhere via the Web. However, many publishers still have to sign so that Amazon can offer these services. In the moment, only very few books are available in this mass customization program.
For customers, this is great news. It will make access to books faster and more accessable. And will finally also provide to customers the convenience that purchasing one chapter is cheaper and more convenient than copying this chapter from the library page by page.