Unlimited Content: The Killer Kindle App?
When it comes to progress on the e-learning curve, one could easily argue that the music industry is well ahead of the book publishing industry. Napster and other illegal file-sharing tools forced the music industry to wake up and smell the coffee. Apple then stepped in with the iPod/iTunes combination and promptly ruled the world...for awhile...
As this BusinessWeek article notes, the pay-per-song model might be living on borrowed time. All you can eat subscription models like Rhapsody are gaining popularity. It makes sense to me. After all, I don't care how much music I "own"; I just care how much I have access to. Would I pay $12.99/month for the right to fill up a 30-, 40- or 80-gig MP3 player with all the music I could possibly want? You bet, especially since I'll know the door is always open to download even more as my interests and tastes change.
Now stop and think about how this applies to the book publishing world. Could you imagine a model where you pay $X/month for access to an unlimited number of books? It's never going to happen in the print world but I think this could be the killer app for the Kindle, a world where manufacturing and distribution costs are zero. Access to every single book in the entire Kindle library could be yours for a monthly fee. Assuming the monthly fee is reasonable this could be the model that really kick-starts the e-book industry.
How would publishers and authors get paid in this model? One option is to go by pageviews. Although the capability doesn't exist in Kindle 1.0, there's no reason version 2.0 couldn't be built to track pageviews of every book downloaded and read. At the end of the month the device could upload the customer's viewing history back to Amazon so that the monthly fee could be split among the publishers whose products were downloaded and read. Publishers would then pay authors their contractual share based on that same data.
Sound complicated? It's a model that's already in use today. Consider Books24x7, a great organization with a platform that "enables users to search, browse, read and collaborate with other users of these vast professional libraries." It's a very useful model and one that quite a few publishers are already participating in. A next logical step is to offer a library that's much, much larger and available on a device like the Kindle.
Would this mean the end of physical, printed books? Of course not, but it's a very interesting model that could be an excellent option for a lot of people (including quite a few who see no reason to buy a dedicated e-book device).
Very interesting idea indeed! For ebooks, a subscription-based model could be the answer the progressive publishing community has been looking for. I'm certainly open to the idea.
The only problem I see with using a subscription-based model is the problem of ownership. Would the reader be able to keep all those books forever? Or would they be deleted after a year (for example)? I only bring this up because people love owning books - print and digital alike. Personally, I have a hard time getting rid of a book or deleting it from my computer for the simple reason that I like to go back and reference it in the future or even re-read it.
Nevertheless that issue is a very small point, and I only bring it up because it popped into my mind while reading your post. But I love the subscription idea, it would definitely save me a ton of money! :-)
Posted by: Brad | December 17, 2007 at 09:44 PM
Hi Brad. There are a number of different ways to approach your question. The most obvious answer would be to mimic the music subscription model where you can keep and listen to the songs as long as you pay the monthly fee. Btw, I'm doing that today with my Inno XM radio. I can record up to 50 hours worth of content on it and it remains on the device as long as I remain an XM subscriber. I love it because it turns my XM radio into an MP3 player I can listen to even when I don't have a signal (e.g., on an airplane).
The other driving factor in this is storage space. You'd reach the limit of a Kindle's capacity before you'd run out of titles to download, so you'd be forced to delete some to make room for new ones.
In either scenario you don't ever own the books though. You're just renting them indefinitely, as long as you continue paying the monthly fee.
Posted by: Joe Wikert | December 17, 2007 at 10:29 PM
While it's not quite 'unlimited access' there are publishers out there who currently have book release clubs where you sign up and pay to (blindly) receive their next X publications - McSweeney's and Microcosm are two main independent publishers that do it. For me, it would depend on who was offering the content - that's why I sign up to and support the two aforementioned publishers.
Posted by: Lisa | December 18, 2007 at 02:29 AM
Isn't that Safari's model? or at least one of them? But, of course, you are taking it to a whole new level, across all publishers. It's an interesting idea, although one that would surely disintermediate the role of the library.
Unless of course, libraries start lending e-reading devices!
Posted by: Fran Toolan | December 18, 2007 at 04:55 AM
Hi Fran. Yes, Safari is another provider of this model, similar to Books24x7. As I mentioned earlier though, nobody offers it on the scale that I'm talking about and certainly not for a dedicated device like the Kindle. Without poking too much fun at Major League Baseball, you could think of this as "Books24x7/Safari on Steroids."
Posted by: Joe Wikert | December 18, 2007 at 08:50 AM
excellent idea Joe, I post it on my french blog today
Posted by: Aldus | December 18, 2007 at 11:54 AM
oh I think its fair to poke all kinds of fun at major league baseball... especially since their payscale 'is on steroids' compared to anyone I know in the publishing industry!
Posted by: Fran Toolan | December 18, 2007 at 04:45 PM
"Could you imagine a model where you pay $X/month for access to an unlimited number of books? It's never going to happen in the print world..."
Long-time reader. Confused. You reported the exact opposite last March at http://jwikert.typepad.com/the_average_joe/2007/03/bookswim_interv.html.
I followed BookSwim.com after your report/interview, and have been a subscriber since they launched. It has been exactly what you just said is "never going to happen". It's access to unlimited number of books.
Care to explain the discrepancy?
Posted by: Rob | December 19, 2007 at 03:13 PM
Hi Rob. Great question. I may not have been clear enough when I explained the vision for this unlimited program, so let me tell you why I think it's significantly different than Bookswim.
First of all, it's all about volume. Bookswim offers a program where you can have 5 or so books at the same time. What I'm describing is only limited by the capacity of the device; in this case, dozens of books and probably in the hundreds. Now before you say "that's silly, who reads dozens of books at a time," consider reference guides. It's nice to have access to a lot of information/knowledge all in one convenient, portable device.
Second, instant gratification, thanks to the Kindle. With Bookswim you have to wait for the books to arrive and it could take days. With Kindle it's instant. On a related note, you're typically giving up a book to get a book with Bookswim and that's not the case with what I'm describing (until you max out the storage on your device).
Third, availability isn't limited to a physical inventory. If Bookswim doesn't have the book you're interested in because all available copies are already out on loan, well, you're out of luck. That doesn't happen in the e-book world.
Those are the first three key differences I see between this idea and Bookswim. Btw, this isn't intended to be a slam against Bookswim! I still think it's a great idea. It is indeed "Netflix for books", but what I'm talking about is something that's much broader and deeper.
Posted by: Joe Wikert | December 19, 2007 at 08:59 PM
I don't understand why you wouldn't want to own music, unless you are a teenager whose tastes change every month. If you just want to find out about new music genres, podcasts are free. I really don't want my music and books to be hostage to the lovely business model of the cable and phone companies. The only exception might be textbooks. In fact, I'm the opposite--if all TV content could be downloaded on an a-la-carte basis and easily sent to my TV I'd love it.
Posted by: ash966 | December 20, 2007 at 11:25 AM
Hi ash966. I used to be against the subscription model but the more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards it. In fact, my next major purchase, which won't be for at least 6 months or so, is probably a new MP3 player. When I get it, I'm highly likely to cancel my XM Radio subscription and go with an all-you-can-download subscription for the new player instead. I like the XM device but it's inconvenient when I'm on a plane or otherwise outside the signal area. Plus, I'm at the mercy of whatever the jocks on XM want to play. With an MP3 player and music subscription I'm back in charge.
Posted by: Joe Wikert | December 20, 2007 at 03:22 PM
One of the reasons the print world makes books so expensive -- even with print-on-demand -- is because of the physical costs of physical resources.
A publisher has to estimate the number of copies a print book might sell. They also have to estimate the number of extra 'marketing' copies required for a particular book to feel 'present' in a bricks and mortar bookshop. (I'm talking about the copies that must be present in a store in order for the book to get traction, even though the publisher knows that those copies will eventually be returned by the store.)
Your model -- eat till you burst -- is superb, in that it recognises the artificiality of the pricing model currently extant.
But there's a different way of thinking about Kindle prices. Publishers could start looking at their dollar PROFIT per book, along with the dollar ROYALTY PAYMENT per book, rather than any of the physical real-world costs that have traditionally been used in pricing.
So, if, as a print publisher, I had to sell a certain book for US$15 in order to recoup my retailer's discount, print costs, distribution costs, royalty costs, and still make a profit of a dollar a book, I could simply price a Kindle book at US$2, for instance, and still make what I used to make... with none of the hassles.
(I've simplified that to exclude the price of editors. But even so, let's throw in a royalty fee for editors, rather than a straight fee. Let's be generous and give our editorial team a buck a book. That recognises their vital role in the process of bringing a book to fruition, and it makes them more accountable for its success or failure.)
Posted by: Roy Blumenthal | December 27, 2007 at 05:52 AM
Just to let you know that what you describe already exists in France: examples are http://fnac.cyberlibris.fr , www.cyberlibris.fr . Let me know if you wish more info :-)
Posted by: Eric | January 21, 2008 at 06:40 PM
I've been wondering when this sort of model would be proposed and have even variously suggested that an eReader should be offered free of charge or very cheaply - something along the lines of the cellphone/mobile plans in Europe - if someone subscribes for a minimum length of time.
Posted by: Lee | February 02, 2008 at 06:21 PM
I had to go back and read this post since I'm actually developing a membership site that would offer access to a niche collection of e-books (but more on that later). Pageviews certainly could be one factor in determining the amount to pay authors. Suspected click fraud would likely be deterred since clicks are tied to a member ID.
Another aspect could be the affiliate bonus that authors get for referring readers to the site from the author's web site.
Posted by: Jeff | February 20, 2008 at 02:22 PM