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Kindle Unlimited: All-you-can-read for ten bucks a month

Amazon.com has enough muscle to drop game-changing bombs on the publishing industry, and the new Kindle Unlimited service reported by Engadget might just be one of them:

After teasing us with a possible launch, Amazon has confirmed Kindle Unlimited, its all-you-can-read e-book subscription service. For $9.99 per month, Kindle Unlimited offers 600,000 books and “thousands” of audiobooks across a range of devices. As expected, many of the major publishers aren’t fully represented, but there are number of popular titles listed, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Hunger Games, as well as a whole catalog of Kindle exclusives. Like Prime, Amazon initially offers a free 30-day trial to draw you in, but it’s also throwing in a three month subscription to Audible and access to 2,000 audiobooks via its Whispersync service (which lets you seamlessly switch between reading and listening whenever the mood takes you).

All-you-can-read for ten bucks a month will be a very appealing offer to serious readers – that’s a fraction of the cost of one hardcover book.  It’s got restrictions because not every publisher is on board yet, but if the service takes off in a big way, resistance from those publishers is likely to weaken.  Once upon a time, many publishers weren’t crazy about having ebooks at all.  (As Engadget notes, the other big restriction at the moment is that Kindle Unlimited will only be offered to American customers, but that drawback probably won’t last long.)

Another interesting thing about Kindle Unlimited is that it might relieve two of the big complaints from ebook fans: the books remain too expensive, and it’s difficult to share them with friends, as you could easily do with a hardcopy book.  If you’re paying $9.99 a month to rent books, you don’t have that expectation of lending them out – “Why not just get your friends to sign up for Kindle Unlimited? We’ll give you a free month as a reward!” the Amazon marketing team will croon – and the cost of individual titles is a non-factor.  

Ten dollars a month, and you’re seconds away from reading 600,000 books, or even having them read aloud on a long drive?  I can think of several people in my life who will experience heart palpitations at the very idea.  Might even convince a few curmudgeons who insist on paper books to give e-readers a try.  It’s a dream come true for students.  I wouldn’t be surprised if publishers are less than thrilled about the loss of unit sales, just as they were a bit nervous about losing markup on ebooks, but Amazon is too big for any publisher to slam them up against the lockers and make them drop the Kindle Unlimited idea.

Update: As the author of a self-published ebook, I received an email from Amazon late this morning, announcing that ebook authors will earn shares from a global fund each time Kindle Unlimited customers read more than 10 percent of their books.  I hadn’t actually thought about the ramifications of the Unlimited service for the flourishing self-publication market, but this seems like a reasonable compensation strategy to me.  

In fact, it could be a huge boost to the self-publication market – a realm of pure and joyous competition, with a herd of Unlimited readers eager to graze upon such books after the price barrier is completely removed.  What novice author doesn’t relish the challenge of getting a free shot at a huge audience and persuading them to read more than ten percent of the work?

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