Amazon has just announced the launch of Kindle Unlimited, which for a flat rate of $10 a month gives unlimited access to a library of more than 600,000 ebooks and audiobooks. A bold move by the company that has changed the way we consume books over the last 20 years, and that has prompted some in the United States to suggest closing every public library there and simply giving each American a Kindle and a subscription to Kindle Unlimited. Meanwhile, others have been more cautious and examined the real value of the service, based on the consumer habits of each user. How many books do you need to read a month for it to be worth paying a flat rate of $10? Should the service be contracted on the basis of how many books I am expected to read? Could it prompt a change in my reading habits, as has happened with Netflix and so-called binge-watching?
Or should I simply dismiss the whole thing as little more than a glorified library card, and that many of the books that I actually want to read are not even going to be among those 600,000? To start with, there is a major problem: the big publishers, like Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and of course Hachette, all in the midst of a war with the internet giant, have decided not to add their best-sellers and recent publications to the scheme, which leaves a big hole, and meaning that you will have to wait for many of the titles you want, or stump up the cash.
In this light, and if Amazon doesn’t make an effort to cut a deal with these major publishers, its flat rate deal could fall flat on its face: “I’ve seen this book in the media, everybody is talking about it, I’ve read the reviews and seen it in the shops, but despite paying Amazon ten bucks a month, they won’t let me have it.” Not the best way to go about a major launch.
In many ways, this removal of any obstacles to accessing goods is what drove Jeff Bezos to begin selling books in the first place: his conviction that paper was the best way to transmit information… in the last century, and that it would soon be substituted by the screen of a small electronic device. Moving to a flat rate is the final step in this process, and its equivalent in the physical world is Amazon Prime, which now has 20 million customers, and is the boost that the ebook needs to fully validate it. But as ever, more is needed than simply announcing something: a large number of clients needs to be convinced that this is what they need, and that they see the value perception of their investment is reasonably positive.
For the moment, a month’s free trial to give users an idea of whether it would be worth the cost is probably the best way forward. It would then be necessary to see what the take up is like, and to what extent our reading habits change when access to books is instantaneous.
If Amazon manages to get a significant number of people to pay ten dollars a month for an all-you-can-eat deal, then it could spark real change in the publishing world. If it achieves this without the support of the big publishers, then the change could be even greater. But if these major publishers are able to diminish Amazon’s appeal, then they might be able to force Amazon back to the negotiating table on their terms. Who will blink first?
(En español, aquí)