Tuesday, 15 March 2011

How to Spotify a good book

On Friday I took part in that leading internet literary radio show, Litopia After Dark. One of the other panelists was Simon Flynn, MD of the excellent Icon Books (I have to say this, as they're publishing my next book - but I would have said it anyway, honest).

In the show format, each panelist has to have some subject to witter on about, and I found Simon's topic absolutely fascinating. The more I thought about it, the more remarkable it seemed.

What he was suggesting was there may well come a time when an ebook platform like the Kindle or the iPad provided the same service for books as the Spotify subscription service does for music. If you are not familiar with Spotify, it's simple but impressive. You pay a subscription per month (£9.99 in the UK), and for that you get all the music you want to listen to. You don't buy the music, you just consume it as part of your subscription. (There is also a free version, but this has ads and you can't use it on mobiles.)

Just imagine a similar service for, say, Kindle. You pay so much a month and for that you can read any ebooks you like that are in the Kindle library. As many as you like, whenever you like. You never have to buy a book again. When Simon mentioned subscription someone misunderstood and thought he meant splitting a book into bits and you subscribe bit by bit, like buying a story as a serial, but this is more like subscribing to a digital library with unlimited borrowing.

From a reader's viewpoint it's highly enticing. It means you can start reading books by new authors try them out without committing yourself to the usual price of buying a whole book. You could be much more daring in your choice of reading, because you don't lose anything. It costs the same whether you read one book or start 20 books and only complete one of them.

So I can see why it's great for readers - and probably for Amazon too, who would get a steady revenue stream. But how would it work for authors, publishers (and agents)? I don't know how Spotify divides up its revenue, but somehow you would have to split the cash between the interested parties. It seems a nightmare to me.

Will it happen? I really don't know. It certainly wouldn't surprise me, it's such a powerful concept - but I presume authors and publishers would have to sign up for it first, so they would be able to hold out for reasonable remuneration if they act together. Oh, what an interesting digital writing age we live in...

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