Kindle Unlimited: a shaky start for the Netflix of literature

In the second newsflash of the semester, new student Harry Dell looks at the launch of Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited service.

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited got itself into trouble recently after including titles in its Kindle Unlimited against publishers’ wishes. Several publishers found that their requests not to be involved in the service’s launch were ignored, while others were only informed that their titles were being included hours before the launch.

Kindle Unlimited is a platform which offers consumers the opportunity to subscribe for a monthly fee (currently £7.99) in order to receive unlimited access to over 700,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks. It is available on any device, and might well be seen as the Spotify or Netflix of the publishing world.

Those publishers involved didn’t wish to be named (for fear of invoking the wrath of Amazon, the behemoth that some see as the ‘consumerist emperor of the Internet’), but many are taking legal consultation. Could this lead to a publisher-led backlash against Amazon’s stranglehold on the sale of e-books? It certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of Kindle Unlimited.

A recent article in The Bookseller also hints towards unrest amongst indie authors, since it could affect their earnings and even limit their ability to sell their titles on other websites. There is also a question as to how this might affect Bestseller chances, since ordinarily each ‘read’ equates to a sale.

With this shaky start to Amazon’s new venture in mind, the launch of HarperCollins’ new e-commerce service in the US, which promises an added 10% net royalty for authors on print, e-book and physical audio titles sold through the platform, becomes all the more significant. It provides authors with the ability to integrate HarperCollins’ online shopping basket and direct-buying functions into their own websites.

Is this ‘author-friendly’ approach a bid to capitalise on the crack in Amazon’s reputation? Realistically this will be determined by the success of the platform, however, HarperCollins has already announced plans to roll out the service UK-wide should the pilot scheme prove successful.

It makes sense for publishers to make use of the Internet’s ease of access as a means of cutting out third parties, particularly when it comes to digital distribution, as it will help them to gain a stronger foothold in the B2C bookselling market.

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