Amazon is preparing to enter the all-you-can-read book market with Kindle Unlimited, a new service meant to provide access to ebooks and audiobooks for a flat monthly fee, according to promotional pages for the service that have since been removed from the company’s website.
Kindle Unlimited will offer access to more than 160,000 ebooks and 150,000 audiobooks, the images claim, and it will cost just $9.99 per month to access all of those titles on “any device.” (Amazon offers applications for basically every platform imaginable, so that claim rings true.)
In a sense, introducing this service is much like Apple developing a streaming music service after Spotify and Rdio became popular: Amazon isn’t making a revolutionary product so much as it’s preparing to dominate a market kickstarted by smaller companies like Oyster or Scribd.
The main difference is that the music industry started to embrace iTunes — thanks in part to the rise of illegal downloading, it had little choice — while the publishing industry has become increasingly hostile to Amazon’s efforts to gain more control over it in recent months.
It’s no wonder why: the company has been using consumers, tempting authors, and bullying publishers as it attempts to negotiate a larger cut from ebook sales, the right to print books in its own facilities, and otherwise benefit from its increasing power over the way people read.
The music industry has been complaining about the effect streaming services have had on it for years. Now it seems that it will be the publishing industry’s chance to complain that the changes Amazon, Oyster, and Scribd are trying to make will lead to disaster for publishers. (Bonus points if the industry claims that authors will soon go extinct because of the service.)
Still, it’s hard to argue against a service that might encourage people to read more often on its moral or economic implications. Books are expensive, especially compared to other media, and it would be nice if Amazon could get more people to spend some time with the world of books.
Does that excuse everything Amazon has done to screw publishers in recent months? No. Does it make up for the company’s waning commitment to customer happiness? No. But it was only a matter of time before something like this debuted, especially as other companies threatened Amazon’s monopoly with their own services, and we might as well embrace the service now.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]