Amazon have recently launched a subscription service allowing what they refer to as ‘unlimited access to over 600,000 titles’ for $9.99 per month. Given other recent fusses around Amazon this has inevitably led to both praise and attacks from writers and publishers. But what interests me is how this sort of services affects us as readers and consumers of culture. Is this really a bold step forward?
(Spoiler alert: librarians can relax, I’m going to remember you this time)
Look, it’s the Netflix of potatoes!
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited isn’t the first subscription service to crop up in the past few years. The extraordinary success of TV streaming service Netflix means that these usually get dubbed ‘the Netflix of x’, whether x is books, maps, comics, llamas, potatoes, whatever.
I recently did a little freelance work for subscription comics service ComicsFix, and it highlighted the obvious advantage of these services for customers. This is a company charging $9.95 per month for access to products that normally cost more than that each, and that take less than two hours to read. Sure, they don’t have the big popular titles, but for voracious comics readers that might not matter next to the cost saving.
Short buzz, high cost, obsessive habits – comparing comics with drugs seems entirely fair.
So this isn’t exactly a high risk move for Amazon, and it’s one that we as customers have already proved that we like.
If it’s not bold is it at least fairly new?
Exhibit A: libraries
Stockport Central Library, how I love you
Libraries have been providing unlimited access to books for many times longer than Amazon has existed. And they don’t charge us (directly) for the privilege. And these days many of them provide access to e-books – in fact this one in Texas is all about the digital (thanks to Felipe for the link).
So no, not new, but headline grabbing.
So what’s in it for us?
For all that I’ve poked holes in the innovation side, I do think that subscription services have huge advantages for us as readers, viewers, listeners, and general cultural audiences.
They give us huge choice and variety.
They let us instantly access that variety without it taking up space around our houses.
By doing this, they may free us from an attachment to possessing things as a key part of the cultural process. This moves our focus more towards enjoying the experience of those things. I think that this is, by and large, a liberating change.
By removing cost-per-unit for the consumer this could also encourage us to try new things, supporting independent and obscure creators. I’d be wary of laying down a tenner to buy something like Tony Keaton and Andrew Herbst’s Wolves of Summer, an indie comic about werewolves and the Hitler Youth. But if there’s no extra cost we’re far more likely to dip in, try something new and find out if we like it – and having tried it on ComicsFix I loved Wolves of Summer.
Of course it’s not all roses and sunshine. So later in the week I’ll be looking at the adjustments, the psychological shifts, and to an extent the limitations of this move towards paying for access rather than ownership.
In the meantime let me know what you think. Do you use any of these services? Have they affected your reading/viewing/listening habits? Would your attitude be different for books?