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Amazon's unlimited subscription book service could destroy libraries

There is now a Netflix for books. On Friday, online retail giant launched an unlimited e-book subscription service. The subscription will allow readers to pay $9.99 per month for unlimited access to the Amazon e-reading library.

Amazon is not the first service to give this a try. Companies like Oyster and Scribd have offered e-lending services already, but they may struggle to compete with Amazon, which has size to its advantage. Its new subscription service will feature more than 600,000 titles and include books with heavy copyright restrictions that smaller services don't have access to, such as the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plus more than 2,000 audio books. Via Whispersync, a magical Amazon app, readers can even switch between reading and listening to books.

Is the subscription worth it?

In theory, being able to subscribe to a monthly service would be more ideal than buying books individually. Amazon Kindle users can lend e-books to other users for 14 days, but only one book can be lent a month. The unlimited plan could make lending books completely unnecessary. The consumer market has also proven that people like and will pay subscription fees for unlimited access to other media. Just look at NetflixSpotify, and even Amazon Prime.

And then there's the cost: a single bestseller, let's take the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy, for example, might cost $4.99 to own. But if you only want to read it once and plan to read the whole trilogy, Amazon's unlimited plan, at $9.99, might be a good deal. The plan would probably pay for itself for consumers who read at least two or three books a month. But for most Americans, this isn't the case. Few Americans read more than two books a year, much less a month. Only 28% of Americans read more than a book a month in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center study. And for those avid readers, the book selection might not make the service worthwhile — 600,000 books is by no means a comprehensive collection of literature.

Will this have a ripple effect?

This move is sure to put another kink in Amazon's relationship with book publishers. The details of how exactly the Amazon lending service will work financially have not been fleshed out, but publishers have already spent years arguing with Amazon over their low prices. This could be particularly troubling for major publishing houses who have been able to remain profitable due to e-book sales, and might see revenues fall if enough people switch to a subscription service.

The subscription service could also affect libraries, which are already suffering from a decline in funding. For people who can afford to spend ten dollars a month on books, Amazon unlimited will essentially be a library at their fingertips: the options are not limitless, but they are all available by request.

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