Unlimited Reading

Did you know that on some of the BitTorrent-enabled sites where you can downloaded movies free (let’s call it pirating) you can also find bestselling books?

That’s more than you can get if you take part in Kindle Unlimited (or, really, other sites, such as  Oyster or Scribd). Those are “streaming” sites for books that promise unlimited reading for a monthly fee (usually $10).

But unlimited reading doesn’t mean unlimited choice. For Amazon, in particular, it’s hard to find current titles, as a New York Times article has it, because the big publishers refuse to participate in the program. That’s nothing new. Publishers refuse to participate in anything new, and anything that involves Amazon makes them even more resistant to change.

But readers can already get most of the classics they want. Everything out of copyright can be found without charge or for a nominal fee, for digital download. And readers of genre fiction might already have moved on to many of the self-published authors who supply their need for fast reads in romance, science fiction, fantasy and thriller, at prices ranging from $2 to $5. These readers, who are often voracious consumers of books, wouldn’t be satisfied anyway by the offerings at most of the traditional publishers, since they’d likely move quickly through what’s available to them anyway.

Now, I’m not sure if an unlimited reading supply works economically, compared to a Netflix kind of plan (and though the Times article says you can find almost anything on Netflix, that’s not true: it deletes titles and adds them, and not everything is either available to it or chosen by it). Reading takes longer than mere watching, or even listening.  (Though I, for one, would love an unlimited audiobook service, since I would listen to more books than I currently do – I go for those that are between 15 and 25 hours, when possible, to get my money’s worth, and that means Victorian-era novels, in general, which I love, but the available supply of audio titles is dwindling.)

But again, regardless of whether these sort of unlimited reading services will work is almost beside the point. What’s interesting, again, is the resistance of traditional publishers to taking part in something that might introduce their authors to more readers. But the sticking point, as it always is, is price, and doubtless Amazon negotiates tough terms with publishers (as publishers do with authors, though few industry observers are up in arms about that).

In any event, even if these services don’t really take off, they’re still likely to push eager readers of fiction and some nonfiction into sampling more self-published titles, and continue the erosion of traditional publishing’s power.

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