Is Amazon Unlimited a Portent?

By now you’ve probably heard about Amazon Unlimited, the subscription service that allows you to access hundreds of thousands of eBooks for the low low price of $9.99 a month. Wait, a membership that allows access to oodles of books? Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah! Your friendly neighborhood library!

All snark aside, this new service has one thing on libraries and e-book lending: availability and no waiting. Libraries are at the mercy of publishers both in price and in supply. The waitlists for popular e-books are notoriously long. The selection is sorely lacking. So I suppose it was inevitable that a service like Amazon Unlimited comes along to compensate for those issues. But I don’t think Amazon is going to have much more luck than any library.

At the end of the day, the books Amazon offers subscribers still come from the same place the library gets their ebooks: the book publishers. So who’s to say that this service takes off and the publishers want a bigger piece of the pie? If that happens, then Amazon Unlimited is in the same boat as libraries. Only library card holders don’t have to pay one red cent for their membership. Besides, there is already a number of subscription based services that are already being offered through the library. While they’re far from perfect, it’s at least a step in the right direction. Here’s a quick list:

  • Hoopla– no waiting lists for TV shows, movies, and audiobooks. The biggest limit is the number of titles you can check out a month. Wilmington allows patrons 10.
  • Zinio– no waiting lists for e-magazines. The service requires 2 logins, which causes a wee bit of trouble and you have to go through the library website to access the titles they’ve subscribed to.
  • Freegal– music and videos that you can download and keep forever. You’re limited to only a certain number of songs per week. Wilmington allows patrons 5. This does prohibit you from downloading entire albums at once.
  • Overdrive– granted it’s not without problems, but this e- and audiobook service has a long history of working with libraries to provide folks with e-content.

Money seems to be at the heart of eBook pains. The publishers want to make as much money as possible with this new medium that completely changes the game. Because e-files are so much easier to share, artificial limitations like DRM (Digital Rights Management) are applied at the file level. Instead of focusing on the file-level, I think that the focus is shifting to the collection level. eBooks are just the latest in this trend.

Subscription based software models are becoming increasingly popular. Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite (which includes the web page editor Dreamweaver) and Microsoft’s Office 365 are two of the more popular ones. In the stead of purchasing the software outright for 100s of dollars, you’re purchasing access to the software for 10s of dollars a month. I can see Amazon Unlimited being the forerunner to similar offerings by libraries. Of course then you get into the dilemma of ownership vs access. But that’s a blog for another day.


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