Will the Netflix Model Work for E-Books?

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Several sites are trying out e-book rentals or subscription services. If there was an e-book equivalent of Netflix, would you use it?

We wrote in March that both Amazon and Apple are working on systems to trade e-books.

Experts are saying that a Netflix or Spotify for e-books isn’t far off. Several companies are already making the attempt, MarketWatch says:

  • BookFling.com and Lendle.me coordinate lending to give Kindle and Nook owners the ability to borrow each other’s books.
  • Safari Books Online is partnering with publishers to build a library of technology e-books available on a subscription model, with over 30,000 IT e-books so far.
  • Two colleges, Texas Southern University and California State, rent text e-books at discounts of up to 60 percent off print prices through CourseSmart.com.
  • Oyster Books is planning a subscription-based iPhone app that lets customers read all they want.
  • Harlequin, a romance publisher, has a subscription model that provides a set number of books automatically each month.

Most of these systems are either in a genre niche or not widely known. There’s no killer app yet. But given that people rarely read books more than once, it seems likely rentals will become more common over time.

Investors are betting on it. Early Facebook investor Peter Thiel put $3 million into Oyster Books last October, MarketWatch says.

On the other hand, publishers may tiptoe around e-book innovation for a while. A federal judge’s ruling that Apple conspired with major publishers to raise e-book prices is a reminder that digital publishing isn’t an anything-goes Wild West.

“It might be a long time before [publishers] try to take charge of their fate again in such a bold fashion,” The New York Times says. “Drawing the attention of the government once was bad enough; twice could be a disaster.”

If there was a read-all-you-want e-book service with a wide selection of titles, would you be willing to pay for a subscription? How much? (Don’t forget, your local library may already lend digitally.) Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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