With the news that Scribd is getting rid of “unlimited” subscriptions, eyes turned to the company that still has the unlimited model – Amazon.
Kindle Unlimited still offers – as the title suggests – an unlimited number of titles for its subscribers. They are not the same titles available on Scribd and, once upon a time, on Oyster; those two companies offered books from the Big Five and more. Kindle Unlimited is mostly furnished with ebooks from indie authors and small publishers. Yet, this still includes a large number of ebooks, and there is a reason why it seems the model is currently working.
As industry expert Michael Shatzkin points out on his blog:
A lot, if not most, of what Kindle Unlimited “lends” are ebooks compensated for by a “pool” of cash Amazon puts in each month. The size of that pool is solely determined by them and the per-page compensation for those books has inched downwards. Nonetheless, in the aggregate it amounts to a lot of money that is available only to ebook “publishers” (usually indie authors) who give Amazon an exclusive ebook license for the title. The publisher can sell print and audio elewhere, but if they want to share in the KU pool their ebook has to be Kindle only.
The disruptive news that I had missed last October is that a handful of smaller publishers — not just indie authors — are now seeing it as financially beneficial to be Kindle-only for ebooks.
So the Kindle-only ebooks are not being found on the other sites. In addition, Amazon is getting the books for a much cheaper price than they would have the bigger publishers.
That is good news for Amazon, the authors/publishers on KU (for the most past), and perhaps consumers. But there are potential concerns of Amazon getting too big, especially if the big houses start putting books in KU if they see it as the only option left.
As Shatzkin notes:
Presumably, there is some percentage of the ebook market that Kindle could control that would lead to anti-trust concerns. Their share has been growing almost inexorably since the Department of Justice and Judge Cote put their thumbs on the scale a few years ago to punish the publishers and Apple for what they saw as price-fixing.
We will look for enlightenment on this subject from anti-trust attorney Jonathan Kanter at Digital Book World. Is there any percentage of the ebook market that if one entity controlled it would constitute a prima facie monopoly that calls for government action? Or even of the total book market, including print?
These aren’t questions that could be answered in the small space of this post. However, it does raise a few eyebrows. Amazon does not control the publishing industry – though many would like to think they do. It does have a large portion of the marketplace as its reach has grown.
The government is not afraid to get mixed up in this world, either, as shown in connection with the Apple antitrust case, where the company allegedly conspired with five major publishers to raise prices.
As Amazon grows, does it become only a matter of time before they are on the docket? Will Amazon get big enough for anti-trust official to take notice? in the determination of whether Amazon could get the attention of anti-trust authorities, one issue could be whether consumers have been harmed. For now, they are enjoying low prices and many other benefits. But will this situation continue if competitors fade away?