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September 10th, 2014

The sub way

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service is a reminder that ebook subscriptions are a serious channel now. But should publishers be excited or alarmed?

The eBook subscription model has been a big issue in publishing for a while now, but it has leapt centre stage since Amazon’s launch of Kindle Unlimited in July.

The service offers access to some 600,000 ebooks and 200,000 audiobooks for $9.99 (about £5.95) a month, and has been trumpeted as a Netflix or Spotify style concept for books. Those two services marked step changes for the TV and music industries respectively—so will this bring similar upheaval in publishing?

From a customer’s point of view at least, Kindle Unlimited is good news. The deal appears to be strong value, since for the cost of a single cheap paperback a month, readers will be able to access as many books as they like. Amazon’s promotion of the service has revolved around the ‘Freedom to explore’ message, and the idea of an entire library at the fingertips for free after an upfront cost will appeal to many.

But publishers seem to be viewing it rather differently. The so-called big five—Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster—have been conspicuous by their scepticism so far, and it will be interesting to see whether or not Amazon can tempt them on board. Perhaps the public appeal of Kindle Unlimited will prove so great that they cannot hold out. But Amazon’s very public row with Hachette—covered in this newsletter a couple of months ago—continues to rumble on, and that will make all publishers very wary of signing up to something so big.

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