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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Public Library for the Internet

After reading about the program and listening to the debate over its benefits and costs, I believe I have an explanation for why Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program is a good idea. Granted that while the only issue may be the price, I think it is a minor cost to a good program. My thought process can be broken down into two points, (1) a start to transitioning the library model to the internet and (2) a program for authors to publish independently and earn revenue.

The Library Model
The library model works because it is plainly a simple model. It has a filing system that anyone can use and the notion of a library works in just about any language. Fast forward to today and that we have the digital book. While there is the Kindle bookstore, iBooks, Google Play Books and Project Gutenberg, the one that stands out for me is Kindle. Quite plainly, it is the one platform that is agnostic to where it can be used. Whether someone uses Windows, Mac, Android, Windows Phone, iOS, it is accessible. Much like the notion of a library, when anyone asks how to buy an e-book, the Kindle comes to mind, whether or not someone owns or even uses the Kindle.

So while I may like the notion of the Kindle bookstore, the debate against it says that it is a limiting model because platforms like iTunes for music has degraded and Netflix runs into data issues. My rebuttal for these models is simple in that iTunes is limited because it is not as cross platform as it could be. If iTunes were to be available for Android and Windows Phone, competitors like Pandora, Stitcher and Rdio would face a serious problem because when I think of THE place to get music is iTunes. I use Pandora to fill my needs but when half of a market is saturated with music streaming services, it means that something is missing. Granted iTunes doesn't fill the streaming music space yet, there is nothing to stop it from succeeding aside from the cross platform compatibility that it is currently missing. For the video side, Kindle Unlimited is compared to Netflix in what it does for books. While Netflix may be having its own bandwidth issues, the accessibility of it is the deciding factor. Very rarely do I hear or have to ask if Netflix is supported. It just works, no matter the device or location.

In short, the only limiting factor to the growth of Kindle Unlimited is its price. Compared to the price of a library card (which is usually a one time fee for printing a library card, if that), $9.99/month can seem rather high. I will pose that since this is a new model, it will need time to grow through the people who would benefit the most, people who have the time to read yet cannot afford or do not want to pay the full price of each book they want to read.

Author Independence and Revenue
The other argument that I hear is that the big publishers still hold the bigger grasp in publishing because print reading is still desired generally over digital books. While the trend may be leaning digital (I will not dive into statistics as they can be smudged), the Kindle publishing platform allows for direct pricing of one’s work. If I feel my work is worth $20, that is what I can charge. If I think it is worth more or less, I can charge it. I would be in control of how much I charge. In addition, I am able to control the commission rate and see how it is directly impacted in various markets (domestic vs. international) so I can price accordingly. If I want to make a certain amount in certain markets, that control is in my hand. Amazon provides the infrastructure to make distribution a moot point. This allows authors to focus on content creation and pricing rather than also including the difficult task of distribution. Marketing is a factor in any case but with the rise of social media, it is easy to be able to create a Facebook and/or Google+ page, Twitter account, or a website to promote one’s work. In the Kindle Unlimited model, revenue is earned once readers finish at least 10% of the book. As this can be a matter of debate, my view on it is that this may be just an initial figure and could be adjusted in the future but is a good idea because it provides a direct metric for earning revenue. Authors know that they are earning for good work and that readers and making it at least that far through their work. As this is still the early stages, actual money earned is a matter of debate but is worth at least publishing early works this way to generate interest in up and coming authors and sharing good works. The idea is similar to the Netflix model because much like recommended titles based on previously watched titles, getting e-books published to a wider audience means more recommendations to other readers and the potential for higher revenue.

The Kindle Unlimited program does require publications to only be published in the Kindle bookstore which I have heard argue be a detriment for non-Kindle users. While there are those who choose not to use multiple platforms, either because of ease of managing accounts or because they want to be in only one eco-system, I believe this is one case where using the Kindle platform is beneficial. This is one of those cases where I believe that everyone benefits because everyone can use the same platform rather than being excluded because they don’t use a specific platform. Amazon, I think, has done a good job of catering to everyone because no one should be left out, and the Kindle Unlimited program may aim to do just that. The way Netflix allows more people access to video content, Kindle Unlimited could allow more people to cheaply access e-books while also supporting authors on the backend of this system via their revenue program.

Initially, I admit, I was not going to enroll my publications in the Kindle Unlimited program until it gained more steam but after thinking about it, I decided that I will give it a try. My stance is that I want to help it grow and have my content available for more people. While the money is not a factor for me, I want to hopefully help others decide if it may be the way to go for them, especially as Amazon has added a means of monetizing reads under this program. Over the course of the next week or so, I will enroll all of my publications of This Working Droid, The Android Realm Digest (beta and regular publications) and Reel Nsight Year 1. Aside from testing out the model, I want to feed my curiosity to see how it works and see how it impacts content feedback.