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Amazon Announces Kindle Unlimited, $10 Monthly Access to More than 600,000 Books

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Safari001.pngAmazon today announced Kindle Unlimited, a $10 per month all-you-can-read subscription to Kindle e-books. Amazon touts “unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks on any device for just $9.99 a month.”

I alluded to this a few days ago, when Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited webpage was prematurely leaked. I’m not sure what the value of this type of service is. As I pointed out in my article, more than 600,000 books does not mean that you will always find books that you want to read. Amazon highlights a number of books that are available via Kindle Unlimited. These include the Hunger Games series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Harry Potter books. Amazon also shows a number of popular novels and non-fiction books, and lets you browse what’s available. But they don’t offer any books from the big five publishers, so those books that are highlighted are part of a small selection of popular titles.

Taking a quick look at the Literature & Fiction category, I noticed that certain subcategories are very well represented: Action & Adventure (25,121), Erotica (34,703), Horror (19,312), and Short Stories (28,614). The Romance genre contains 35,571 titles, and Mystery, Thriller & Suspense has a whopping 46,293 titles. Let us not forget Science Fiction & Fantasy, which reaches the astounding number of 50,245 titles. These are genres where self-published books tend to lurk. And the genres I cited just above make up, together, more than 300,000 titles, or about half of what’s available from Kindle Unlimited.

What is more interesting about Kindle Unlimited is the access to audiobooks. However, there are currently only 1,704 titles available, which is a very small number. Amazon calls these “books with narration,” rather than audiobooks, which makes me wonder if these are indeed audiobooks, or just books that allow you to use the text-to-speech feature on a Kindle or other device.

Kindle Unlimited is only available in the US for now, so I won’t be able to try it out. I’m very interested to see how well this works; as I pointed out in my article the other day, given the amount that I read, this could be useful for me.

Amazon Considering Kindle Unlimited: One-Price Access to 600,000 Books

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I’m a book person. I have thousands of books in my home, and read at least one or two a week. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good library near home, so I buy a lot of books. I look carefully for the lowest prices, buying sometimes from Amazon, sometimes from third-party sellers on Amazon, and sometimes used.

I also buy ebooks, for books that I know I won’t want to read again, but, also, since when I recently moved from France to the UK, and realized how many books I had (and culled half of them), I vowed to not let my book collection grow so large again.

Ebooks aren’t great, but they are fine for certain types of books: fast-read novels, non-fiction that I won’t read more than once, and books where I’m unlikely to read footnotes. I buy Kindle books rather than iBooks, because the Kindle is a better reading device than the iPad or iPhone, and, if I buy Kindle books, I can read them on any platform. I like reading outdoors, and I can’t do that on my iPad, but I can read on my Kindle in the sun. If I want to read on my iPad, I can do that with the Kindle app. Win-win.

So, the (unsurprising) disclosure that Amazon is testing a Kindle Unlimited service interests me as a reader. But before getting out the credit card and signing up, it’s worth considering what kinds of books you can get from a service like this.

A few months ago, I tried out Scribd, which offers a similar service. My experience was not very positive. Services like this only get books from a limited number of publishers, plus nearly every self-published book on the planet. Nothing against self-publishing, but lots of that stuff is simply dreadful. If Amazon offers such a service, it will certainly have similar content. Out of there 600,000-odd books, it’s likely that the vast majority will just not be any good.

Amazon has a feature of its Amazon Prime service called the Kindle Lending Library. There are, here in the UK, “over 500,000 Kindle titles to borrow for free.” Alas, I’ve not come across any when searching for books I want to read. So I fear that Kindle Unlimited would be similar.

I’m not the kind of person who will only choose books to read from what’s available from a service like that. Could you imagine only watching movies on Netflix because you’ve paid for a subscription? Kindle Unlimited will only be interesting if it includes lots of books from major publishers. I can imagine that new releases wouldn’t be included, and that’s fine, but if it’s only small publishers and self-published books, it’s not worth it.

As an author, however, I’m less interested in a service like this, and given the types of books I write, I wouldn’t allow them to be on a one-price-per-month service. But that will be the subject of a future article…

The Committed Looks at Amazon’s Phone and More

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The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01On this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Rob is away, so Ian Schray and I welcome the “super chatty” (her words!) Kelly Guimont to the show to talk about Amazon, Nokia, Apple TV, and why the food replicators on Star Trek: The Next Generation aren’t all that smart.

Listen to The Committed, Episode 39: Frighteningly Obvious.

Beware Amazon Phishing Emails

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I got an email today, asking me to confirm my Amazon account. It’s a phishing email, but one that I think many people might fall for. If you seen an email like this, it’s not real:

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Beware. If someone gets access to your Amazon account, they can most likely do a lot of damage to your bank account.

Amazon Prime Music Launches with Over a Million Songs

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Amazon has announced the launch of its Prime Music streaming service, with access to “over a million songs and hundreds of playlists.” This all sounds a bit vague, but it looks as though the catalog only offers songs more than six months old; and not many at that. One million is a small fraction of what’s available on the iTunes Store (some 30 million), but it will be interesting to see how this plays out. It’s unlikely that anyone will subscribe to Amazon Prime just for the music. But as part of a broader offering, including expedited shipping, video streaming and a Kindle lending library, this is the kind of thing that will keep Prime subscribers renewing their subscriptions.

It’s not available in the UK, so I won’t be able to try it out. So if you have Amazon Prime in the US, feel free to post some comments about how it works for you.

Tweet to Add Items to Your Amazon Shopping Cart with #AmazonCart Hashtag

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001.png Amazon has introduced a new feature called #AmazonCart. You can now reply to any tweet that features a link to an Amazon.com product, add the #AmazonCart hashtag, and Amazon will add that item to your shopping cart. (You’ll have to link your Twitter account to your Amazon profile for this to work.)

It’s an interesting idea. I often see people share links for Amazon products on Twitter, and may not always have time to check them out. Tweeting with this hashtag will add them to my cart so I can look at them more closely when I have time.

What’s interesting, though, is that, unless your Twitter timeline is private, anyone will be able to see what you’re adding to your cart. Not only may this interest people you know, but I can imagine marketers looking into this as a way of getting an idea of what types of items are trending.

If you want to add an item to the Amazon UK store, use the #AmazonBasket hashtag. I don’t see anything in France, Germany or Canada about it, so it may be limited, for now, to the US and UK.

Amazon Launches Wearable Technology Store

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Amazon has launched a wearable technology storefront, feature categories such as Fitness & Wellness, Healthcare Devices, Wearable Cameras, Smart Watches and more.

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For now, there’s not a whole lot of stuff in the store, but it’s interesting to note that there’s an email address to “Sell your Wearable Technology Products.” Since it’s an email address, my guess is that it’s not aimed at individuals selling gadgets they bought and don’t use, but rather manufacturers.

I’ve written about some fitness trackers (here and here), but looking at this Amazon storefront, it’s pretty obvious that this is a product category that lacks a leader; or even a concrete concept.

As everyone awaits Apple’s mythical iWatch, this store could be a landing page for that device. But in the meantime, it shows just how the wearable technology market isn’t anywhere near mature.

The Problem with Content Channels on Set-Top Boxes and Smart TVs

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Amazon yesterday released its Fire TV, a set-top box designed to stream Amazon Instant Video, along with other services. You can use it to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, and several other services. But you can’t use it to access the movies and TV shows you bought from the iTunes Store.

On Apple’s side, their Apple TV lets you access Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, and several other services, but not Amazon Instant Video. I have a smart TV; it’s smart enough to let me watch Netflix, but not Amazon Instant Video. I also have a Blu-ray player: a Cambridge Audio 651 BD, a high-end, multi-region, CD, DVD and Blu-ray player. This is an expensive device, but it’s designed for quality playback, and doesn’t come with apps for streaming services as cheaper Blu-ray players do.

So what’s a guy to do? I would like to watch Amazon Instant Video, which was recently introduced in the UK, where I live, but the only way I can currently do that is to either stream it from my Mac or iPad, using AirPlay, or get some kind of device that has this “channel.” I could buy Amazon’s Fire TV, but; oh, wait, it’s not available in the UK yet. I could buy a cheap Blu-ray player; that might actually cost less than Amazon’s Fire TV (when it’s released in the UK), but I would use it for nothing than than Amazon Instant Video, or maybe also use it for Netflix, instead of using my smart TV for that.

I understand that there’s a lot of competition among the different companies whose devices act as conduits for entertainment channels. But this is getting out of hand. If you want to watch a specific service — other than Netflix, which seems to be available on every device that connects to a TV — you may or may not be able to do it with your TV, Blu-ray player or other device. And things like smart TVs and Blu-Ray players rarely get updates with additional channels. So that Panasonic TV I bought last year, because it has a good picture, and was available at a good price, is well, a good TV, and not much more. If Amazon Instant Video had been available last year, I would more likely have looked for a TV that offered this service. But I’m not going to change TVs just to watch Amazon videos.

The sort of channels, or apps, that you get on smart TVs and set-top boxes should be available on all devices, if you so desire. All this fragmentation does — and, of course, this is the goal — is incite people to buy more devices. But we don’t need any more; our homes are full of devices that connect to TVs and computers. We need the One True Device that will allow us to access all these channels. Just as TVs can display all the channels available in a given area, these other devices should be able to do the same thing. They should be easily upgradable, so, when new services arrived, we can add them, in order to end this war between different companies.

The content providers would love this, of course. My guess is that some companies include specific channels, such as Netflix, because they know these channels are popular, but others content providers have to pay to be present on a set-top box or other device. Apple is, of course, one of the culprits, because they refuse to allow any non-Apple devices to display any of their content, whether it’s a video or e-books. (I only buy Kindle e-books because I can read them on just about any device with a screen.) One of the main reasons Apple pushed to drop DRM on music was because of anti-competition investigations in Europe, alleging that this DRM prevented interoperability. It’s time to do the same thing for content channels.

It’s in the interest of consumers that this tangled web of channels and apps becomes less of a headache. It’s in the interest of content providers that anyone with a device capable of playing this type of channel be able to do so. And, finally, it really is in the interest of companies selling devices that they allow as many channels as possible to be present. After all, wouldn’t Apple sell more Apple TVs if you can also watch Amazon Instant? Wouldn’t Amazon sell more of their Fire TV if you can also watch movies from the iTunes Store? We consumers are the losers in this game; it would be nice if we didn’t have to worry about which channels are available on all these different devices so we could buy just one and use it to watch what we want.