Amazon to launch digital book library for Prime?

Faith Merino · September 12, 2011 · Short URL:

The library would echo the Prime video service by allowing users to read older titles for free

If publishers were angry over cheap digital books, they’re going to hit the roof over free digital books.  Unless Amazon can somehow make the prospect of a semi-free digital book library more appealing to them.  Maybe by sending publishers a gift basket of bath salts and lotions?  Or maybe a gift card to Applebees?

Amazon is reportedly in talks with publishers over a new venture that could turn Kindle books into the Netflix of the literary world by creating a digital library for Amazon Prime subscribers.  Members currently pay $79 a year for free two-day shipping on all orders, as well as access to a range of free, older movie titles.  And if Prime’s digital movie selection is any indication, we can expect Prime’s digital book selection to be just as craptacular.

The report comes from the Wall Street Journal, which cited an unnamed source who said that Amazon would stock the digital library with older titles (just like Prime’s digital movie arsenal) and would limit the number of books Prime customers could read in one month.  The e-commerce giant would also shell out a hefty fee to publishers who agree to contribute content to the library, the source said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to email inquiries from Vator, so as of yet, there’s no word on whether the project has any biters.  It’s also not clear what the term “older titles” actually entails.  It may refer simply to classics, which would be a lame deal for Prime subscribers, since many classic texts are currently available online for free via Project Gutenberg.   Or it may refer to anything that’s not considered a new release.

But publishers may not be so quick to jump on the idea, since they’re already facing declining revenue.  It’s easy to look at the war between Amazon and publishers and paint the publishers as the bad guys, since they’re the ones that demanded higher prices for e-books under threat of pulling all of their titles from Amazon altogether.  But the sad truth is that publishers weren’t making much money to begin with.  The big publishers are struggling while the small publishers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.  So, in order to stay in business and keep publishing new titles, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want their bottom line threatened by Amazon’s push to promote the Kindle by lowering e-book prices at its own loss.

Could this be Amazon’s way of trying to find some kind of middle ground?  Consumers want low-priced e-books, and many have interpreted the publishing industry’s refusal to lower prices as pure corporate greed, since many consumers think that by cutting out paper and ink, publishers should be paying out less to actually bind the books, but that’s not really the case.  Most of the money involved in the production of a book goes to paying the author, the editors, the publicists, the promotional tours and marketing, etc.

Maybe this is Amazon’s way of promoting e-books while ensuring that publishers get guaranteed revenue on titles that aren’t fresh anyway.  Maybe it’ll allow publishers to look less miserly.  The fact is that this is the direction in which e-books are going.  More than one e-book library has cropped up in recent months, and companies like Amazon and Chegg are getting into e-book rentals.

One thing’s for sure: e-books are going forward, and publishers are going to have to find a way to adapt. 


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