Last week Amazon revealed its all-you-can read subscription model, Amazon Unlimited. For the time being the streaming reading service, which gives you unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks, is available in the US for 9.99 US$ per month.
After the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, presumably about eBooks rights, is this finally the end of publishing? Will this be Amazon’s final step to control some day 100% of book sales (in the US, Amazon already controls 50% of all book sales)?
Not at all. First of all, nothing really new happened, as similar services have already existed for some time: Oyster Books (9,95 US$ per month), Scribd (8,99 US$ per month) or the Spanish startup 24symbols. Although they have less titles in their catalog, Oyster and Scribd are offering 500,000 and 400,000 title respectively, they have agreements with some of the Top 5 publishers that are still missing in Amazon’s offering. Therefore, in case you care about what you are reading, the Amazon offer might not be the most interesting for you.
Also in terms of pricing, it’s still to be seen if the price point of 120 US$ per year will get market acceptance. With an average price point of below 10 US$ per ebook, you have to read at least 12 books a year, and all the books you would like to read but are not available come on top of this number. For occasional readers, 12 or more books a year looks like a rather high number, while vivid readers normally know pretty well which books they want to read, and many of these won’t be available through Amazon Unlimited, at least for now. More than one subscriber will be disappointed. Signing up to these models, you might end up like many people with their gym subscription. After Christmas or before the summer they sign up with the best intentions to burn calories three times a week but already the second month they heavily overpay for something they don’t use… at least subconsciously they are satisfied since they could do sports any time they want.
Following this idea we might see that most subscribers of such services actually will not be heavy readers or frequent visitors of bookstores and libraries but people who would like to “motivate” themselves to read more. Over decades we saw the same happening in the traditional book club model (actually, contrary to booksellers’ opinion there is actually quite little overlap and cannibalization between channels). On the other hand, time will tell if people are willing to pay in the long run 120 US$ for something their library card gives them for free; the Huffington Post called Amazon Unlimited therefore a glorified library card.
Just boycotting innovations is not a strategy.
More worrying, once again, is the “wait-and-see” attitude of the Spanish publishing sector. Just boycotting innovations is not a strategy. Everybody in the sector knows that the current push-model with returns of up to 50% will not be sustainable in the future. Instead of flooding bookstores with too many titles, when will we start listening to what readers really want and focus on these books, looking for new ways to reach more readers for them? Instead of condemning new digital business models, why don’t we take the lead creating real value to readers and publishers?
In the traditional offline world, most people would agree that libraries are driving book sales: they promote reading, create readers and give visibility to books. More readers end up buying more books. And more books in peoples hands trigger that they talk about books with their friends which again drives book sales (although they could read them for free in their library). Have you ever heart that publishers boycott libraries? Why do they do it in the digital world?
It looks like we are going the same fatal way as the music industry. When Apple started iTunes more than a decade ago, record companies did not like the idea initially. Truth is that the traditional business model of record companies has disappeared (they reinvented themselves as rights, concert and merchandising businesses) and iTunes became a huge success, creating a viable business model for digital music (opposed to piracy). And without doubt, after the acquisition of the subscription streaming music service Beats Music, iTunes will finally evolve into a Spotify-type of business model.
Back to publishing… what was the reaction of Spanish Publishers to Amazon’s announcement? According to Daniel Fernández, president of the Catalonian Publishers Assiociation (Gremi d’Editors), “this is a trial balloon, as the drone, and then we'll see what happens”. In fact, we don’t have to wait to know what will happen: Amazon will be there, and traditional publishers caught in their old business model will not.
Either we embrace the future and get the chance to succeed through innovations or creativity or we close our eyes and will definitely fail. Make your choice.