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The Rise of Unlimited

Napster (logo)It was the music industry first, wasn’t it? Napster (I had to drag that name from the deep recesses of my mind), Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and all the others that have since popped up and been successful, or just popped. Here was a chance for consumers, those of us that listen to music, to access every song we could ever want to listen to, whenever we wanted, and pay little for it.

The beginning was fraught with difficulties, complaints from musicians who felt they were losing out on royalties, louder complaints from companies who were sure they were losing out on royalties. Perhaps they were – I don’t know enough about it either way, my gut says the musicians were. Has the music industry settled down after all these years? Has it found an equilibrium where consumers and producers (and all the others involved) make a fair living?

What else is unlimited these days? TV and film?

Netflix (logo)Netflix, Amazon Prime, and all the others. They provide ‘unlimited’ access to a limited (though they do have thousands of things to pick from) selection of TV and movies. You pay your money and take your pick – literally. Has this effected DVD sales? Maybe. It has led to the phenomena of ‘binge’ watching. Sit down and watch a whole series in a weekend (with much needed Pot Noodle, Pizza, Beer, Wine, and Paracetamol breaks). Though this probably existed with DVD series. These companies have now become producers as well, Daredevil being the most recent, I can think of (and watched). The providers have become competition for the old producers, and I wonder how they feel about that.

Then there is, and of more relation to this website and our shared passion: books.

Marvel Unlimited (logo)Let’s look at graphic novels first, just because I recently found and subscribed to Marvel Unlimited. What a find! I haven’t stopped squinting at the tiny screen since. Wolverine, Captain America and Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel. More superhero stories than you can swing a stick at. Now, all of these have been out for a while and, perhaps, we can hope that the artists, writers and others are getting their royalties.

And finally, we come to it, the elephant, kraken, blue whale in the room, Amazon. The Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited. 800,000 books that subscribers and/or Prime members can access. Surely, the book form of Netflix…or is it? It is not every book, is it? No, it’s not. The majority of books are those self-published and small press releases. To have your book ‘unlimited’ you have to sign it exclusively with Amazon, and who amongst the ‘big’ authors or companies would do that? None or few, is my guess.

How many books a month do you read? Me, I’m lucky to get through one, maybe two. Do I buy the subscription cost worth of books a month? Sadly not. I mean, I’d like to. I’d love to have the time to read all those books, to enjoy all those books. Two kids, a job and writing, prevent that. I am happy with my side of the deal.

Amazon (black logo)But as a writer, as a person trying to sell books to people, how do I or others feel about it? Some hate it. Some love it. Amazon keeps changing it. On the pure level that authors get paid whenever someone reads their book, you can’t argue. You could argue about how much an author gets paid (is it enough or too much? I doubt it is the latter) and I am sure some authors do.

As yet the whole process is still new. It is still an infant, still learning to walk, holding onto the sofa arm and standing up on legs too weak to support its body and, occasionally, falling on its bottom. Like that small child, it will keep trying and growing until it walks and runs.

Is the future of reading some form of subscription service? Will we all be beholden to some service provider for our reading material? Does Amazon have it covered? A proprietary tablet or app that we must all use to access a book? Will the big companies fall into line or will there be a war, the initial skirmishes of which have already been fought?

You know what, I don’t have the answer. I’m good at not having the answers. I can foresee such a future (maybe I should write some sci-fi) and as Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriber it does not scare me, but perhaps it should.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Justin says:

    There’s already a service like this for people with print disabilities. Bookshare, for example, allows subscribers to a book in an accessible format. Some publishers directly send them the books, but others are scanned. If bookshare doesn’t have it, you can request it, and volunteers will scan it into the system. For students it’s free, otherwise it’s 50 dollars a month. Considering how much I read every year, that’s a money saver.
    I’m not sure how royalties work here, but I’m sure there has to be a system in place.

  2. Avatar Sebastian says:

    Could you imagine Danielewski being only available on a digital screen? It’s almost like why even bother? That’s one of the key problems with this is that not having the option between physical and digital reading mediums could kill many careers. Severing the digital revolution will pretty much end it for most independent authors (good-bye Hugh Howey) and letting physical literature die ends it for experimental works such as those of the aforementioned Danielewski, and for presses like the geniuses at McSweeney’s. Losing either of these authors and McSweeney’s kills me to think about. A few years ago we are all, as writers and readers, in the perfect position where there was quite the balance struck and writing in either mediums was a solid decision. And now here we are, in what we all claim and view ideally to be the progressive era with the 2015 apex and one day I woke up and everyone started talking about ending either the physical or the digital, and this is frightening, because there’s no real reason to, why can’t both live in perfect harmony like they did just three or four years ago? This is a nightmare, and it doesn’t need to happen, there is literally zero reason for it.

    The only thing that does need to be fixed is that the literature section in retail stores need to be expanded, and the “new” section in used bookstores need to grow, so that when the unfortunate end of the last new bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, comes about there will be a place for books.

    Don’t get me wrong, unlimited books sounds amazing. But the problem is, is that it won’t happen. The reason it happened with those other companies mentioned in the article is because those are good companies who have made it their business to make things available to people. Amazon has never made any such impression or shown any such intentions.

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