Amazon has taken its next big step in dominating the e-book market with its release of ‘Kindle Unlimited’, which allows subscribers unlimited access to e-books, for $9.99 a month.

Although currently limited to the US, Amazon’s new service has the potential to dramatically alter the way books are consumed. The subscription model itself is not a new one; companies like Spotify are well-known for changing the way we listen to and purchase music. More recently, ventures like Readly, a subscription-based magazine service,  have taken steps to translate this into the Digital Publishing world.

There is no subject quite as divisive among book-lovers as the Kindle/print debate, and many people will already have a strong opinion on this latest venture from Amazon. Throw in their recent tax-dodging scandal, and questions arise about Amazon’s domination of the e-book market, and whether this is just another way to rob authors of their royalties. Amazon’s promotional video is carefully crafted to appeal to every fantasist and book-lover, so how does its glossy image compare to the reality of unlimited digital lending?

A bibliophile’s dream

I’ll start with the positives of this new scheme. For a dedicated bibliophile like myself, the offer of unlimited books for the price of a solid hardback is one not to be sniffed at. As a working professional, the library closes as I leave work, so it can be quite difficult to visit with enough time to browse the shelves regularly. Kindles and other e-readers do a good job of solving this problem, but dedicated readers can end up spending a lot of money, and it also reduces the likelihood of experimenting with different titles. The possibility therefore of having an unlimited number of e-books available for the same price as two or three Kindle editions per month is undoubtably appealing.

Struggling authors may also be able to expand their fan base, as readers no longer feel constrained by a price tag to download a novel. How it will affect their royalties remains to be seen – there are valid concerns that it may wipe out some self-published authors entirely as subscription-based royalties could not mathematically compare to direct purchases. Perhaps authors will have to be tactical – allowing one or two titles in the Unlimited Kindle service, so that when readers discover and enjoy their work, they can be channeled to more direct purchases in the future.

However, this idea that Amazon is allowing us to consume an unlimited (well, limited to a library of 600,000 titles) number of books is uncomfortable in some ways. Most people won’t reasonably be able to get through more than two or three books a month, but having the pressure to make the most of the ‘unlimited’ subscription fee has the potential to influence reading habits. Rather than carefully reading and savouring literature, will we begin skimming and skipping to squeeze the value of the monthly fee?

Quality, not quantity

From comments already emerging on the news of Amazon’s ‘Kindle Unlimited’ launch, there is another concern. Amazon’s flirtation with film subscriptions has not been quite the glowing success they hoped, and as one of the unfortunate people who signed up for the free trial, there is a simple reason why ‘Kindle Unlimited’ fanatics should worry. Quality.

Browsing LoveFilm’s collection was like being offered the remaining few chocolates in a large selection box. Although you could sit down, choose a film and slowly tune out over the evening, there was nothing spectacular on offer. Rather like absent-mindedly chewing over the coconut filling, there were one or two films there you thought you might enjoy, but there was certainly no squabbling over a selection of smash hits.

Readers have concerns that Kindle Unlimited will end up the same, leaving them wading through 599,999 washy titles in order to find one they like the look of. I took a look at the selection on offer and whereas there are some classics like ‘Life of Pi’ and audio versions of ‘The Hunger Games’, not much else really caught my eye.

So will Kindle Unlimited be a money-saving lifeline to busy bibliophiles eager to learn more, or will it make it even more difficult for readers to find gems among the increasing tidal wave of drivel* appearing online?

Let me know what you think by commenting below, or by connecting with PageLizard on Twitter!

*Disclaimer: The world of self-publishing has opened up a multitude of opportunities for talented authors, but I’m afraid that it has increased the flow of trash with it too!

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