Cloud storage is paving the way for books that are sold not by title, but by time
So, digital books. As innovative as they are form-wise and otherwise, it's striking, business-wise, how tightly they cling to tradition. Whether pre-Gutenberg or post-Bezos, books have been sold pretty much the same way: per unit, object by object, X books for X bucks.
There's been a good reason for that, of course, which is that books, like clothes or cars or Kindles, are commodities, and creatures of the marketplace. But there's also a good reason to think that things will soon be changing. In the digital realm, after all, books are no longer objects in the way that clothes or cars or Kindles are objects. They are things, now, only in the most broad and tenuous sense.
Enter Audiobooks.com, Simply Audio Books' new book-streaming service. Instead of sending discs of individual audiobooks, Qwikster-style, as Simply Audio Books had been doing since 2003 -- and instead of allotting book credits to customers, as Amazon's Audible service does -- Audiobooks offers unlimited streaming through the cloud. And at a flat membership fee of $25 a month.
What Netflix's Watch Instantly has done for movies, and what Spotify has done for music, Audiobooks could do for books. The service has the potential to reframe book-buying as a transactional thing, making it less about purchasing an object, and more about purchasing an experience. In fact -- convergence! -- the monthly unlimited access Audiobooks.com is experimenting with has less in common with, say, Amazon's approach and more in common with cable TV's: In a monthly subscription framework, the unit of purchase is the bundle, and vice versa. The price is constant -- and, more importantly, unaffected by the content that's consumed. Whether you watch 20 hours of Parks and Rec each month or 20 minutes of it, you'll pay the same thing. Because you're paying, officially, not for content itself, but for the potential to consume it.
Cable's model is not without its problems, but, from the perspective of incentivized content consumption, it's incredibly elegant. The bundled subscription removes the pressure points from the purchasing experience, making programming blissfully -- and/or horrifically -- easy to consume. And making it, more to the point, mindlessly easy to consume. There's a reason that television is Americans' mass medium of choice, and only part of it has to do with the obvious awesomeness of Laverne & Shirley.
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