Defending the unannounced Kindle Unlimited subscription service from Amazon

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[Update 7/18/14: Kindle Unlimited has launched: http://amazon.com/kindleunlimited ]
We've talked about all-you-can-eat subscription book services before but they haven't seemed to really catch on yet. The basic idea is you pay $10 or so every month and can read as many ebooks from the service's library as you like.

Yesterday someone at Amazon slipped up and made public a test page for a similar service called Kindle Unlimited. The page was taken down but you can't hide your mistakes on the Internet: a cached version is still available. According to this page the service would be $9.99/month and allow access to 600,000 books as well as thousands of audio books.

Everyone was talking about this yesterday. I guess GigaOm was first so we'll link to them. There seems to be a bit of skepticism out there in the wilds of the Internet, based mostly on the books that don't seem to be available: titles from the 'big 5' publishers (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Macmillan). Two of these publishers, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, do offer their books through competing services Oyster and Scribd.

Today I'm going to play defense for Amazon. I think it's a little early to make any decisions about a service that not only hasn't gone live but that hasn't been officially announced. They could be and probably are still working on deals to bring more publishers to the service. GigaOm and others also point out that many of the available books (for a while you could browse the offers but Amazon has put an end to that as far as I can ascertain) are also available via the Kindle Lending Library; the implication seeming to be that you can already get these for free if you have a Kindle.

I'm not a huge book reader but my partner is and let me tell you, she can tear through books when she gets on a roll. She spends a lot of time reading self-published novels from Amazon, as well as novels from smaller publishers. Part of the reason for that is cost (buying 10+ $10-$15 books from 'the big 5' every month is just out of the question on our income), part of it is that she enjoys the more intimate connection to the authors (via social media) and of course part of it is because she just enjoys these books. For people like her, a $10/month flat rate would save quite a bit of money each month even if Amazon never signed on the big 5 (I'm assuming books from Amazon Digital Services would be included).

I've pitched Scribd and Oyster to her in the past but these aren't names she's familiar with and she's not super-motivated to do the research to see if the books she enjoys are available through them, nor is she enthused about having to get them onto her Kindle Fire, if that's even possible. And that is Amazon's ace in hole. Folks like her are familiar with Amazon, and obviously getting these books onto her Kindle device or a Kindle app would be trivial. The barrier to entry is virtually nil. We'll sign up on Day 1 if and when this service becomes available.

If you only read mainstream books from the big five then obviously Kindle Unlimited will be of limited interest unless Amazon gets those publishers signed up, but for those of us who like to play outside the lines drawn by the established publishing industry I think it could be a great deal. We'll of course know more when (and if) the service is officially announced, but when it comes to ebooks I'd be hesitant to bet against Amazon. I think they can make this work.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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