Ebook subscription services are commonly hailed as the Netflix for books and Kindle Unlimited, launched back in July 2014, leads the pack. There are few serious competitors to consider in this market, especially after exits from Oyster and Entitle. Scribd also drop its unlimited model last year in favour of a more sustainable ‘Select’ system. With KU still going strong, here are a few things for publishers to ponder.
1) The title selection remains ample yet limited
From over 650, 000 titles on offer at launch, KU now purports to have a catalogue of over 1 million books, along with thousands of audiobooks and popular magazines. Despite the enviable Amazon ecosystem and inclusion of high-profile series, such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, KU still suffers from a dearth of bestsellers after its failure to woo market leading publishers. However, getting publishers to opt in has been very much on the agenda in the past year. Perks could well be offered to the big players, but small presses could also benefit from unrivalled visibility and a vast readership if negotiations are favourable.
2) It’s not Prime Reading . . . or Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
Amazon’s ever-growing suite of reader services can look very similar and almost invites confusion, but the clues are in the target audiences, which are distinct. Prime Reading, launched in October 2016, is the latest perk for subscribers in the US and offers a rotating selection of over 1,000 popular books and periodicals for occasional readers. This is in addition to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL), which permits Prime subscribers to borrow a book per month without penalty. According to Publishers Weekly ‘the launch list of titles for Kindle Unlimited resembles the list for the first KOLL list’ and both share notable omissions from the big houses. Unlike Prime and KU, however, books loaned from KOLL are specific to Amazon devices and cannot be read using the app.
3) It could be an effective marketing tool
Or at least that’s what the VP for Kindle Content, David Naggar would have us believe. In theory, publishers could create keenly priced, time-sensitive strategies for key front or backlist titles without fully committing their entire list. Simon and Schuster ran such a trial in 2015 with two titles from Vince Flynn’s Mitchell Rapp series. But there are some drawbacks. Amazon’s need for exclusive rights is still a deal breaker for many and the payment model, which allocates money to participants from a pool, has already been easily gamed.
4) Predictions point toward readership growth
Back in 2015 Nielsen BookScan’s Jonathan Stolper revealed the subscription market accounted for 5% of the overall book business. Though Amazon isn’t one for broadcasting its data, many in the know, such as Mark Coker of Smashwords, foresee further growth in KU’s already dominant market share. While a lack of bestsellers may make it less appealing for some, the platform seems to be sustainably furnished via its own self-publishing program and exclusive imprints. A recent agreement with Marvel also puts popular comic collections on the list.
5) It’s only available in selected countries
It’s easy to forget that despite its dominance, KU is only available in selected countries and international customers on Amazon.com aren’t entitled to subscribe. This obviously presents opportunities for local companies such as Mofibo, who only serve the Danish, Swedish and Dutch markets. Kobo’s strategy of launching its own subscription service in Belgium and The Netherlands earlier this year also makes sense, especially given their substantial growth there. Whether Kobo goes on to launch in Amazon strongholds, however, remains to be seen.