Why the Big 5 should join Kindle Unlimited
I’ve been a happy member of
since it became available July 18th of last year.
There are a lot of things to recommend Amazon’s subser (subscription service), where you pay $9.99 for an “all you can read plan”.
I could easily recommend enough books to you that are part of the program right now that you could read (and enjoy) one every day for a year and still have plenty to go.
The biggest knock you’ll hear against it, though, is that it doesn’t have the best-selling books from the biggest publishers.
Actually, if you are talking about the Big 5 (the biggest “trade” publishers in the USA…trade books are the ones you would have bought in a bookstore, not textbooks and such), it doesn’t have their worst-selling ones, either. ;) None of the Big 5 is part of Kindle Unlimited, although some of them are participating in some other subsers (Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster all have some of their books available through Scribd and Oyster).
I think that’s a mistake.
No, not just for me as a reader…I think it’s a mistake for the Big 5 publishers not to be part of Kindle Unlimited.
Part of it might be simple antagonism towards Amazon, I really don’t think that’s the deciding factor. While there are rumors that HarperCollins is considering pulling out of Amazon (something I consider very unlikely, for any length of time), they currently all do business with the e-tailer. It would be a rare publicly-held business indeed that would give up a bunch of business just because their company hadn’t gotten along with another company in the past…stockholders would not be happy.
I think it comes more from a fundamental misunderstanding of how consumers will use subsers…and KU in particular.
It’s reasonable that they would see subser use through the lens of current book buying; I just don’t think it is accurate.
Recently, in an excellent
Arnaud Nourry, Chief Executive of Hachette, discussed the future of publishing, and e-books in particular.
In expressing skepticism of subsers, Nourry said in part:
“This is why I have resisted the subscription system, which is a flawed idea even though it proliferates in the music business. Offering subscriptions at a monthly fee that is lower than the price of one book is absurd. For the consumer, it makes no sense. People who read two or three books a month represent an infinitesimal minority.”
I’m sure many of my readers fall into that “infinitesimal minority”, but it’s a mistake to think that is the only group served.
As a former successful brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I think I have some idea about what motivates people to buy books. I’m going to put forth five reasons here why I think the Big 5 should join KU…and I made a “shaky” “prediction” that at least one of them would by the end of this year.
1. Just because people use KU doesn’t mean they won’t buy other books
That’s my case. I read KU books, but I also read others. My guess is that for that small group of “serious” readers (you can also use the term “regular readers” or “habitual readers”…people who read way above the average…I might set it at fifty books a year, but even ten a year would be relatively high), joining KU may not even reduce the number of other books they buy. Many of them have never been able to afford all the books they possibly could want to read in a month…this would be a supplement, not a replacement.
2. You don’t have to put your frontlist in KU
This goes with point number one. Let people buy your Gone Girls and your Fifty Shades of Greys, until they drop out of popularity and become part of the “backlist”. That backlist right now, even though it may provide the majority of your income, doesn’t do it based on individual title unit sales. Many of your backlist would be far more likely to be borrowed than to be bought…and while the revenue might be lower, the volume could be considerably higher
3. “Casual readers” are “burst readers”
“Casual readers” are another group than “serious readers” (of course, there’s a third group…non-readers). They tend to read on specific occasions…notably, going on vacation. They might even read (gasp) two or more books on a week-long trip, and then not read the rest of the year. Kindle Unlimited is not an annual membership…it’s month to month. Sure, if subsers didn’t exist, they might buy a book from you for that vacation…but since they do, why wouldn’t they pay $9.99 for a month and take care of ten (!) members of the family? Let’s say the whole Brady Bunch goes on vacation…two parents, six kids, and they bring Alice the housekeeper, and Sam, Alice’s Significant Other comes along, too. That’s ten people. Each one can read all the books they want. As they finish one book, they return it and start another one…and you never get over the ten at a time you are allowed to have. A “burst reader” (I just made that up) often wants to buy more than one book at that time. They also may not be that picky about getting that frontlist title…they might read genre books and classics, for that matter. Get those otherwise dormant titles moving!
4. It’s about discovery
Look, you are trying every which way to find ways for consumers to find your books. You are, rightfully, concerned about the reduction in the number of chain bookstores as “showrooms”. Subsers are going to be the new discovery engines…bigger, perhaps, than chain bookstores were. It’s not going to be hard to do this: put first titles in a series in the subser. Put short stories that supplement the series in the subser. That’s an important point: people won’t mind borrowing a twenty page short story, when they would never buy one that size. Get those serious readers hooked, and they’ll buy your other books! This is much cheaper than starting your own website or doing television advertising, or those other things you’ve been considering.
5. They don’t need to get whole books
This is a big, big factor why people will use subsers! They can get one recipe out of a cookbook, one “how to” out of a do it yourself book, one city out of a travel guide for a country, one exercise routine out of a workout book, and so on. They can bounce from book to book. This is new, and it will change things. Figure out how to make it equally valuable to get a lot of small things, rather than one big thing. Got a book out on all the baseball teams? Break it into one book per team…and get paid every time they borrow each “chapter”. Somebody will borrow a book on their favorite team, who wouldn’t buy a book on all the teams. You couldn’t sell them that way as p-books (paperbooks) in a brick-and-mortar, but you can easily do it in a subser.
That’s five. :)
Consumers are creatures of habit. You know this already. People like to buy things where they’ve bought things before. This is especially true with Amazon, where they already have your financial information, and where many services tie your library together (notes, bookmarks, and so on). I think the value of subsers for consumers is there, and will be recognized. When they do want to buy books (including expensive p-books as gifts at the holidays), they are first going to turn to where they have been reading books…and if you haven’t been part of that, it makes it harder for them to think of you.
Publishers, let’s be honest: do I and my readers benefit if you follow my advice to join KU? Yes, they do. On the basis of the reasons above, though, I think it would also be a win for you. Let me read your ten, twenty, thirty year old titles in KU…and I’ll buy your new ones.
What do you think? Does this make sense for publishers? Will any of them do it…this year? Is this a way for them to make money from books which are going into the public domain (which starts happening again in the USA in 2019)? If you’ve joined KU, has it reduced your book purchases? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.