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An Amazon Digital Book Rental Plan?
October 24, 2010 - 8:45pm

How much would you pay for a monthly subscription to Amazon's digital book content?

Writing in this month's Wired, Chris Suellentrop (Abandon Ownership) argues:

"The winner of the ebooks sweepstakes will be the bookseller who becomes a bookrenter. I don't want to own hundreds of books on a Kindle at $10 a pop. I want to Netflix them - pay for access to every book ever published. I'd rather be a renter in Borges' library than the owner of my own."

I think I'd pay $25 a month for such a plan - $300 a year. That $25 would give me access to download and read/listen to any Kindle or Audible book. The book would still reside on my device, but I would no longer be so upset about my inability to "pass along" the digital copy as I've signed up for renting instead of owning. The big problem with digital books so far is the DRM, which makes it impossible to share books the way I share paper copies. If I were renting the books, I'd be less concerned with the DRM - the value proposition of the service will have increased.

Why a digital book rental program is good for readers (and authors):

1. Experimentation: With an all-you-can eat monthly book rental program the cost to skim and surf less well known books and authors decreases dramatically. My book diet is actually fairly limited, restricted to books that get reviewed in the NYT's or one's recommended by friends or colleagues. I'd love to be able to browse lots of different books, increasing the odds that I'll settle on an unknown author or subject I know nothing about.

2. Costs: A rental plan would save money for the biggest readers. In effect, people who read less would be subsidizing those who read more. But this is fine, as this is the model of gym memberships, Netflix subscriptions (for downloading), and many other services. Heavy users promote the service to non-users, so everyone wins.

3. Flexibility: A rental plan would allow me to read the same book same as an audiobook or an ebook. It drives me crazy that I can' t switch back and forth across digital formats.

Why a digital book rental program is good for Amazon:

1. Profits: A steady subscription income beats one-off sales every time. Amazon's marginal cost for the delivery of digital books is zero. Subscribers are sticky customers, which drives down the cost of customer retention.

2. Marketing: Word-of-mouth represents the most effective form of marketing for books. Increasing the diversity of books read via a rental program, as readers will be more likely to experiment when the cost for doing so disappears, will mean a greater variety of books will be talked about.

3. Device Sales: If I'm paying a monthly subscription fee for the bits, I want my atoms (my book reader) to be as good as possible. Therefore, I'm more likely to invest the money for an improved reading experience - which means buying a new Kindle if the performance improves.

How much would you pay for rental access to the universe of digital books?


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