For those of you who listen to our (semi) weekly Three Percent podcast, you may remember a discussion Tom and I had a month or so ago about the idea of a “Spotify for books,” whereby someone could subscribe to have unlimited access to all ebooks available on a given platform. As with Spotify, you wouldn’t actually “own” these books—if you stopped paying your $10/month (or whatever) the ebooks in your “library” would become inaccessible, etc. (Critics of this model like to point out that the same thing would happen if this “unlimited subscription” service were to go bust at some point.)
This is a rather simple model, one that’s very much like Spotify and Netflix, and only really applicable to books now that ereaders are fairly affordable and a significant number of books have been digitized.
It’s also an idea that Amazon is trying to put into action:
Online retailer Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN: News ) is close to launching a digital book library and is in talks with book publishers, according to the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. The library will enable customers to access a digitized content by paying an annual subscription fee, similar to the service provided by Netflix, Inc. (NFLX). [. . .]
The launch of the digital library by Amazon could also further harm the print media and could lower the cost of print books and the demand for them.
Couple quick points:
1) I am a shitty capitalist. Not that I’m the only person to have ever thought about this, but it seems like one of those things that a smarter, more money hungry sort of person would’ve been proposing to a venture capitalist/Amazon a million months ago.
2) I actually think these services are good for print media (and the music industry). The issue of why you read/listen to what you read/listen to, and how you stay within your prescribed comfort zone, is a topic much to large for this ephemeral blog post, but if there’s ever a situation where readers/listeners are willing to “take a chance” on something out of the ordinary, it’s this sort of unlimited subscription model. Before Rhapsody (which I subscribed to for a decade before shunning them in favor of the younger, sexier Spotify), I bought maybe 6 CDs a year, listened to music occasionally, and would pirate things I maybe thought sounded OK, but wasn’t necessarily sold on. Rhapsody changed everything. This past weekend, I listened to tracks from at least 30 artists I had never before heard of, discovering a few I liked, and a number that were just meh. From a user’s perspective, this sort of noodling is essentially free, since you pay $10/month to check out any and everything you want. For presses like Open Letter, a service like this could be golden, since someone interested vaguely in international literature, but unwilling to spend $15 or even $9 on a book by an author with a strange name, would be able to start reading that book for a price that, within their mind at least, is basically $0. It’s like how you start watching strange shows on cable just because they’re there . . . There’s no risk in starting Museum of Eterna’s Novel and finding out if you think it’s the “First Good Novel.”
3) This service would convince me to buy an ereader. Not to replace my current book collecting obsession (on recent trip to New York I gave away 4 Open Letter books to reviewers and booksellers and bought 6 new titles), but to supplement it. There are things I don’t want to own, and books I’d like to just check out. It would be like a massive library right in your hand!
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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