Not a new idea, a Spotify for books. The idea has been tried before and frankly given Amazon’s wealth of self-published books I am surprised that it has not been done by the gorilla yet. Amazon may yet try and do this now that another startup is attempting it: Oysterbooks.com, which is based in New York (still the hub of publishing, despite Amazon’s shifting the center of gravity slightly toward the West).
While the trend seems inevitable, with concept of “owning” a book disappearing—realistically how many times do you really read the same book in, say, the same few years—it is unclear how this will effect publishers and authors. If the effect is the same as the music industry it will be a mixed bag. Generally, less revenue for the author and less corporate support for the unknown artist (supported by the revenue of best sellers).
The problem is none of that can be made up by a live concert! How many people are going to pay to hear you read from your book!
I also suspect there will continue to be a shift toward shorter writing. Short shorts, sometimes called “flash fiction” is already becoming more popular. The push for reading on any mobile device, anywhere, anytime, will also push for shorter content. At New Libri we played with the concept of “Coffee Break Shorts” on Amazon with this in mind and no doubt this will play well in subscription based venues. In fact, this might be an area where a Oysterbooks attracts a lot of authors. For short cheap fiction on Amazon the return is 30%, instead of the somewhat standard of 70%. There is no reason for this, other than Amazon wanted to keep prices above a certain level. This means that there is less to be lost by putting short stories on a subscription service.
My hope is that Oysterbooks will embrace the smaller publishers first. Yes, this is a selfish viewpoint as part of a micro-publisher, but I also think it is where the most benefit for all is—initially. Through a subscription based service the reader is more willing to risk time, versus time and money, on a new author. If they use algorithms similar to Spotify, this also should be easier for them to explore within their comfort zone.
Amazon is the 800lb gorilla, but it would be foolish to say it is invulnerable to the innovations of startups. Having worked at both Amazon and Microsoft, I see Amazon as making similar management steps as Microsoft in the early 1990s. Innovation is still strong there, but it is not startup strong. It is so busy trying to “spin the flywheel” that it may ignore great ideas and then, just as Microsoft did, it will start innovating by acquiring.
As the saying (coined in an old science fiction book, not from any Chinese proverb) goes: may you live in interesting times. If you are an author, publisher, or independent bookseller, you certain do live in an interesting time!