Thriving as econtent prices fall
How print is slowly killing publishers

Unlimited subscriptions: Five things you need to know

One of the worst kept secrets in recent history was finally unveiled last Friday when Amazon announced their Kindle Unlimited program. It has the potential to become yet another terrific service for consumers but many publishers and authors are less than enthusiastic about it.

Here are five important points everyone in publishing should keep in mind when analyzing Kindle Unlimited and the other all-you-can-read subscription services:

  1. Amazon just legitimized the model – I signed up for Oyster several months ago and I love it. When I mention Oyster and the all-you-can-read model to publishing industry friends they treat it like it’s a fad that will soon disappear. Now that Amazon is in the game it’s time for everyone to realize that the model is here to stay, regardless of what the naysayers think.
  2. It’s not for everyone – The industry’s 800-pound gorilla just showed up but I don’t expect a major impact in the short term. Amazon’s title assortment is pretty limited, particularly with no Big Five participation. That’s why I have no plans to ditch my Oyster subscription for Kindle Unlimited. The other important fact here is that a large percentage of book buyers will prefer to own their content, not rent it. Everyone didn’t stop buying tracks on iTunes when Spotify took off, so don’t look for any seismic shifts here either.
  3. The pioneering startups are now on borrowed time – Even though others are probably also sticking with Oyster (for now) I do worry about the long-term prospects for them as well as Scribd. Neither of those startups has been able to create a household brand name yet and now they face competition from one of the most well known brands on the planet. I figure both of them have about 18 months to either come up with a unique value proposition or fade away. Anyone could have predicted Amazon’s entrance in this space and since competition is always a good thing I’m hoping both Oyster and Scribd have something special up their sleeves.
  4. Publisher financial models will evolve – This is the most interesting aspect of all. The business models vary among the providers and some publishers are undoubtedly getting better terms than others. In general, a publisher gets paid when the consumer reaches an agreed-to reading threshold in a book. Those percentages are as low as 10% and 20% in some cases. In some models the amount paid to the publisher is the same they would have received if the ebook were purchased, not rented, so it’s a function of the title’s digital list price. In other models a percentage of total revenue is placed in a pool and paid out to publishers based on consumer reading frequencies and thresholds. I have no doubt Amazon will sweeten the pot to lure more publishers into Kindle Unlimited. Publishers need to remember that that once the Kindle Unlimited platform gains traction Amazon will do what they always do, renegotiating so publishers receive less and Amazon keeps a bigger piece of the revenue pie. Sound familiar?
  5. Publishers can control their own destinies – Many of the bigger publishers who aren’t participating in Kindle Unlimited already realize the point I made in item #4. But what they might not realize is that they have other options. Just because they’re concerned about Amazon doesn’t mean they should avoid the all-you-can-read subscription model. In order to ensure future competition in this space I hope these publishers will sign up immediately with Oyster and/or Scribd. In order to keep Amazon honest we need at least one of these startups to survive.


Felipe Adan Lerma

Joe, very nice article; found it via The Digital Reader's Morning Coffee links -

Esp liked your first point, "Amazon just legitimized the model" - Scribd and Oyster, I believe, set the stage for Amazon to have to act, though I think they would have eventually anyway.

My own pref is Scribd, though I like Oyster also (have had subscriptions to both). And I'll sign up for my free month, and probably 1-3 months with KU because I like to compare. But other than Joe Konrath, not much more to read on that plan (for me). Gotta catch up my titles on Scribd and that'd I'd purchased first :-)

But most people don't count in the hundreds of thousands of indie titles (many reportedly on best seller lists) that are available on Scribd and Oyster, and not on Kindle Unlimited. Not to mention, as you say, the Big Pub titles not on KU.

Amazon's problem, with lack of titles to appeal for a subscription service is, I believe, due to one thing - its exclusivity on indies.

Not necessary anymore.

I say make exclusive deals with name individuals that'll draw attention - but the hundreds of thousands of titles available everywhere else but not on Kindle Unlimited? Naw :-)

But I "try" not to be a bridge burner, and placed one new short story on KU. I have titles on all 3 subscription platforms, and to libraries, though they don't seem to have shown up yet; still waiting on OverDrive to catch up their uploading.

Last note, re startup Scribd and Oyster being on borrowed time. Sorta agree. But don't forget, even as they are now, they're terrific take-over ready collections for folk like Apple and Google. Though I'd rather they stay independent.

Anyway, thanks Joe!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)