Amazon launches Kindle Unlimited e-book service

The Kindle Unlimited subscription service, shown on an iPhone, competes against Oyster and Scribd.
(Associated Press) Inc. on Friday introduced Kindle Unlimited, an all-you-can-read e-book subscription service available for $9.99 a month.

Similar to Netflix and other movie streaming services, Kindle Unlimited makes available a library of 600,000 titles and thousands of audio books for one monthly fee. The service is available for Kindle devices, Apple iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and traditional computers.

Kindle Unlimited competes against Oyster and Scribd Inc., two start-ups that launched similar services in the last year. To Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg, Amazon’s arrival is a good thing.

“Them entering this space that we created is validation of the market,” he said. “Our strong belief is that as the e-book market grows and matures, an increasing amount of reading will happen through the subscription model in the same way that other media has shifted to that model as well.”


The number of U.S. consumers using e-readers is expected to grow 8.5% in 2014 to 79 million people, according to EMarketer Inc., a market research firm. Jefferson Wang, an analyst for IBB Consulting, said Amazon’s launch of Kindle Unlimited could boost that figure, prompting readers who still prefer physical books to shift toward e-books. “When you get an offer like, ‘Hey, $9.99 a month, unlimited reading,’ that’s a pretty enticing offer,” Wang said.

But some authors aren’t so excited. To be included in Kindle Unlimited, self-publishing authors must agree to exclusive distribution through Amazon, not only for subscription services but also for standard single-copy e-book sales as well.

“They’re forcing self-published authors to make a choice: either go exclusive or be excluded,” said Mark Coker, the founder and CEO of Smashwords Inc., the largest retailer of self-published e-books.

Amazon foresees tremendous growth ahead in digital self-publishing, Coker believes, and is doing everything it can to form direct relationships with authors.

Those relationships, in turn, are increasing friction between traditional book publishers and Amazon.

Kindle Unlimited’s launch arrives amid Amazon’s standoff with Hachette Book Group over e-book pricing. Amazon laid pressure on Hachette by ceasing pre-orders for some of Hachette’s upcoming books and delaying shipments of others by two to three weeks.

“They’re working to disintermediate publishers from the business of publishing,” Coker said. “They’re looking to neuter publishers.”

Hachette declined to comment.


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