Amazon Kindle Unlimited: More limited than it sounds

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Online retailer and the dominant player in ebooks, Amazon, launched a subscription service in the US on Friday called Kindle Unlimited that allows users access to over 600 000 ebooks and three months of access to Audible’s audio book catalogue for $9.99 a month, which sounds great if you read more than a book a month, but comes with a few caveats, not least of all the service’s US-only stipulation at launch.

Kindle UnlimitedAmazon’s offer may sound comprehensive, but five of the world’s biggest publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan – have all refused to make their titles available via the Kindle Unlimited service.

That’s going to mean a lot of gaps in the catalogue – both in terms of old titles and current ones – and makes rival services like Scribd, which is available in over 100 countries, costs a dollar less and includes many of Amazon’s omissions, seem all the more appealing. Libraries around the world are also beginning to offer ebooks, making a paid subscription for the same service with limited offerings a tough sell, even for Amazon.

Then there’s the issue of ownership – with Kindle Unlimited (as with streaming audio and video services) you only have access as long as you keep paying your subscription, which may put some readers off.

For independent publishers, adding their content to Kindle Unlimited comes at a high price: exclusivity for 90 days. And given the service is only available in the US that means waiting three months before an independent publisher can market a book internationally. However, considering the absence of the big five publishers, it does mean less competition from big names – assuming of course Kindle Unlimited signs up enough users to make the exclusivity clause sufficiently lucrative to offset the opportunity cost it entails.

Another problem with Kindle Unlimited is that it’s only available on Kindle e-readers or via the Kindle App. While that means users of all major smartphones and tablet computers are catered for, it leaves those who use non-Kindle e-readers (like Kobos, PocketBooks and Sony’s Readers) out in the cold. Sure, Kindles outsell all of them, but one of the benefits of streaming services like Spotify and Netflix is their hardware agnosticism.

Considering Amazon’s history of taking its time to roll out new products and services outside the US it’s unlikely any country other than the US will see Amazon Unlimited any time soon. Perhaps by the time it does reach our shores Amazon will have wooed more of the big industry players. Let’s hope so.

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