Last week, Amazon announced that it would be entering the book subscription service game with the launch of its Kindle Unlimited program, offering unlimited access to ebooks for the cost of $9.99 a month. Currently, Amazon Prime allows members access to unlimited streaming film, television, music, and 500,000 ebooks in the Kindle Lending Library, so why does Amazon want to compete against the already established Scribd and Oyster for the same market and seemingly without the support of the Big Five publishers with this ebook-only service?
In collaboration with Publishers Communication Group, the Book Industry Study Group released a new report, “Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy,” the findings of which reflect on why Amazon might be moving into the ebook-only subscription format, whether or not that will be successful, and if publishers should be concerned about this being the next battle in the Amazon digital publishing revolution.
As Ingenta COO Randy Petway noted when these findings were reported at the Making Information Pay Conference earlier this summer, book publishing and its customers do not exist in a vacuum. Much of our lives are run on a subscription basis—gym membership, anti-virus protection, grocery orders, and streaming video and music. Subscription models remove cognitive friction and allow for book discoverywithout readers having to reach into their pockets to purchase a book.
Amazon is already successful with its subscription service for film, television, and music; but as the report notes, books are different than these other media. Recently, the San Francisco-based subscription service Byliner, which boasts 30,000 long-form pieces of fiction and nonfiction by world-renowned writers, was reported to be struggling.
What makes Amazon think ebook subscription services will be successful? One reason that Amazon may be able to succeed in this endeavor where others have struggled is that it already has brand-recognition with a large customer base, making the ability to generate subscribers relatively simple and with the idea that the company is a one-stop shop for everything a reader might need or want. Another is the ability (or algorithm) that allows Amazon to target subscribers on a more specific—vertical/genre—level that offers some level of curation for these readers.
Is it a foregone conclusion that Amazon will gain the most coveted of titles, “Netflix for Books,” forcing publishers to include their ebooks or risk losing that reading audience altogether? Though the BISG report doesn’t address this question specifically, it does offer some reasons publishers might consider creating their own subscription service.
Furthermore, as Amazon and Hachette continue to battle over pricing, publishers in talks with Amazon about including their books in Kindle Unlimited will want to hash out how they are being paid. Depending on the content—textbook, narrative nonfiction, novel—there are different pay structures that the report references. Without that uniformity in pricing, this could be yet another battle publishers may have to wage against Amazon.
From the report, it is clear that subscription models will be a part of the future of reading and book publishing. How publishers work within these new models is based upon their type of content, their direct relationship with readers, and their ability to tap into current and backlist titles to offer more and more ebooks for readers to discover.