Publishers not wishing to add weight to Amazon’s dominance of the book markets by supporting Kindle Unlimited is quite understandable. But eschewing all unlimited options as (Markus) Dohle chose to do, isn’t just ill-considered. It plays into Amazon’s hands by offering Kindle Unlimited no meaningful opposition.
Last year it came to feel, for many in the industry, like the unlimited subscription experiment was over.
Storytel had bought out Audiobooks.com in the US in late 2021 and of course made no attempt to introduce its trademark all-you-can-eat offering. Zero surprise there – Storytel bought into the existing Audiobooks.com contracts. But that didn’t stop the unlimited naysayers from gleefully asserting the game was up for all-you-can-eat.
And when BookBeat announced in December 2022 that it was abandoning the unlimited subscription model, the cheers from the never-unlimited crowd were heard everywhere.
When Storytel began introducing tiered access the unlimited naysayers got even more excited, but in fact Storytel was simply introducing more choice to consumers. Unlimited or tiered access. Not either / or.
And that became a prevalent pattern as we emerged from the Pandemic.
Japan, for example.
Amazon owned Audible, famously now offers both the credit model and unlimited subscription. The Audible Plus unlimited subscription is available in seven markets (Optional in US, UK, Australia, India and France, and the only option in Spain and Italy.).
Still other platforms, like Kobo, operate both a la carte and unlimited subscription options. And this past week Kobo launched Kobo Plus in its ninth and tenth markets – the US and UK.
And of course Amazon’s ebook subscription service Kindle Unlimited goes from strength to strength. Last year Amazon paid out a half billion dollars to authors and small publishers putting books in the Kindle Unlimited programme.
So much for the death of unlimited subscription.
The Kobo Plus deal offers unlimited access to 1.3 million ebooks and 100,000 audiobooks. Nowhere near the full catalogue, of course, and that’s because most publishers are withholding content.
Bart Robers, Kobo’s Director of Audiobooks and Global Subscriptions, said in the press release that,
“Kobo Plus has become one of our most popular offerings in the Netherlands, Canada, Portugal, Australia, Italy and France.”
The press release elaborated:
“Typically, following the launch of a book, revenue tends to decline with age as new releases hit the shelves – but inclusion in the Kobo Plus subscription continues to drive the revenue of a book as it’s discovered by new readers in the service, generating sales for a longer period of time with no decline in individual eBook or audiobook sales. Readers are also willing to try more new authors and read more widely across both new releases and backlist, as all-you-can-read removes the risk of trying something new.”
Therein, of course, lies the real beauty and enduring appeal of unlimited subscription in opening up backlists and in reaching hesitant consumers.
For pubishers, there seems to be a degree of misunderstanding about this, that it has to be all or nothing. PRH, under Markus Dohle, famously chose nothing.
The reality of course is that savvy publishers can and are putting deep and recent backlist into subscription services like Kobo Plus and hooking new audiences who then go on to buy the a la carte frontlist titles.
Publishers not wishing to add weight to Amazon’s dominance of the book markets by supporting Kindle Unlimited is quite understandable. But eschewing all unlimited options as Dohle chose to do, isn’t just ill-considered. It plays into Amazon’s hands by offering Kindle Unlimited no meaningful opposition.
Read the full announcement from Rakuten Kobo on the US/UK expansion here.