Kindle Unlimited has arrived in India! It would have been blasphemous for someone like me, who roots for eBooks, to not even try it. So, I signed up for a month. The results are not surprising, though I wish they were. But let’s look at what we have in store.
Some surprising popular authors
Apart from the worldwide favorite J. K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series, we also have Chetan Bhagat, Preeti Shenoy and Amish Tripathi. So, the recommendations that I got as soon as I signed up weren’t surprising.
Not quite comprehensive
Given that most of the Chetan Bhagat’s titles showed up right away, I thought they have really cracked it for India. Further digging doused my optimism. Bhagat’s (Rupa’s?) endowment to Kindle Unlimited has been generous, but only two of Preeti Shenoy’s and only the first book of the Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi are available. No doubt, authors and publishers are thinking of it more as a marketing exercise, where limited content is made available for “free” so that readers will buy the rest after getting hooked. Given that it isn’t really “free” for readers, the interests of the two parties don’t align.
Does it even matter?
To be honest, given the discounting madness Indian e-commerce and retail industry is enthralled with right now, I would be surprised if people who really wanted to read these popular authors have not already grabbed their books for rather low prices. Popular books are also more likely to be available with friends from whom you can borrow. And second-hand bookstores, where available, would also be full of them. Paying a monthly fee to access these books won’t be too attractive a proposition.
What about beyond popular authors?
So, next I moved to what I was really interested in. Would Kindle Unlimited have books besides currently popular titles from Abhaya’s and my books-to-read list? I thought I hit a jackpot, when I found Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy there. But some of the others from my reading list, although available on Kindle, were not included in Kindle Unlimited. These included John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter. Most other well-known 20th century fiction authors also drew a blank. Abhaya gave a try to his list of books by authors like Richard Dawkins, John Keay and Vikram Chandra but those came up blank too.
So, what really is there?
Lots of self-published books looking to reach out to new readers by being a part of a program where marginal cost of a book is zero.
But unfortunately, without the well-known names to pull in the readers to the program in the first place, I doubt their aims will be met. It’s only if a reader finds the books she already knows about but may not own or may not want to spend money buying, that she would have the incentive to remain signed up in the program on an ongoing basis. That’s when she wold be more likely to browse around and discover lesser known books which might interest her.
If India surprisingly throws up a category for binge romance readers on Kindle, then Kindle Unlimited just might work, since a large number of self-published books are indeed romance and erotica. I am not holding my breath for that though.
There is Harry Potter, of course!
The basic problem remains
There is a basic conflict between the interests of authors/publishers (content creators) and those of the readers in case of unlimited eBook reading programs like Kindle Unlimited. Readers would like to pay a fixed fee. The fee should be low enough for the reader to consume content worth more than she has paid for. But with this fixed income per user, devising a system that would make content creators amenable to the idea while also keeping the venture profitable has proved tricky. Players like Scribd tried to keep content creators happy by paying them in proportion to not only the use of their content by readers, but also the price of the book.
But with romance readers binge-reading, the math went awry and made the model unsustainable. The result was Scribd having to cut down on romance titles, which won’t make the most voracious of their consumers happy.
Kindle Unlimited doesn’t have that problem of unviability as it fixes the overall pool from which it pays content creators. While the details of how the pool is calculated are not made public, one can assume that it is in proportion to how much Amazon in earning from the program. But from that fixed pool they pay only in proportion of usage, with no regard to the price of the book. That can’t keep content creators happy. The situation may even be a legal mess if the contract between authors and publishers doesn’t account for this uncertain income independent of the price of the book. Even if one of them is willing to give Kindle Unlimited a try, reworking the commercials might be too much work. That the big publishers have often expressed their dismissal of KINDLE UNLIMITED-like programs doesn’t bode well for its acceptance in the near future. The future always holds surprises, so theirs may not be the final word on it.
As far as I am concerned, I am not renewing my Kindle Unlimited subscription and would keep a wary eye on how things develop in future.