By Jeremy Hill | for Technology Tell

Earlier this year, Amazon turned on a new service for its Kindle Fire HD tablets called FreeTime. FreeTime is a kid-friendly interface that allows parents to pick and choose which apps, videos and web content their kids can access. On Tuesday, Amazon announced its plans to automate the service with something it calls Kindle FreeTime Unlimited.

Unlike the regular version of FreeTime, FreeTime Unlimited will cost Amazon Prime subscribers $2.99 per month for each child, or $6.99 for a family subscription. If you aren’t a Prime member, the price jumps to $4.99 and $9.99 respectively. For your money, Amazon will provide unlimited access to kids apps, videos and books that are appropriate for children. To eliminate the possibility of accidental in-app purchases, Amazon automatically disables this option. It also removes all advertisements and social media hooks from the children’s content it provides.

Kindle FreeTime Unlimited will become available on the most recent Kindle Fire, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD and the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD in the weeks ahead.

A children’s reporter for Publishers Weekly posted an interesting item today about Amazon’s decision to turn FreeTime into a subscription service, and it doesn’t exactly suggest a rosy view of service’s potential future. “The new subscription service … raises questions and red flags for the publishing industry,” writes Karen Raugust. 

What sorts of questions and red flags is Raugust referring to? “Many publishers, authors, and agents have been reluctant to authorize the use of their content for subscription services,” she writes,” and many are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the Amazon venture. One reason is that they believe subscription models could cannibalize more lucrative sales of individual e-books.”

According to an unnamed publishing executive mentioned in the article, for instance, both internal and external studies have suggested that customers who subscribe to low-priced, Netflix-esque subscription services aren’t likely to move up “to paid or higher price points” anytime soon. (Then again, the studies referenced by the publishing exec aren’t even mentioned by title. )
Interestingly, “Amazon’s compensation model to content providers isn’t yet clear,” according to Raugust, who explains that the publishers she contacted weren’t willing to comment on the specifics of their contracts.
Of course, Amazon being what it is, it’s probably safe to assume that the normal rules might not necessarily apply in the case of Kindle FreeTime. In other words, the results that other subscription-service providers have experienced in the past probably aren’t an especially accurate comparison when considering what may or may not happen with Kindle FreeTime.   
Regardless—and although I don’t have children of my own—I’ll certainly be cheering Amazon on in this particular effort. Because as Ruckus Media Group founder Rick Richter rightly points out in the PW piece, “If this venture is successful, other players, such as Apple and Barnes & Noble, are likely to set up similar services, and the impact will extend past children’s content to adult titles.”     (Dan Eldridge)