On Tuesday (4th November) Amazon announced the launch of Kindle Unlimited (KU) in Spain and Italy.
The offer model is similar to that launched in Germany just prior to the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Same pricing point (€9,99/month). Same trial mechanism: one month free.
The reader can access to up to 10 books at once.
The 700,000 ebooks available both in Spain and in Italy are for the most part in foreign languages (mainly in English), while the local language offer appears pretty limited: 25,000 ebooks in Spanish and 15,000 ebooks in Italian, as announced by Amazon. That’s a lot fewer than the 40,000 local-language titles for the KU launch one month ago in Germany and other German-speaking countries, such as Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein.
KU’s offer of local content both in Spain and Italy constitutes a fraction of the overall digital catalogue available for sale in local languages (between 75,000 and 100,000 digital titles in local languages). As of today in Italy, none of the four big adult trade Italian publishers (Mondadori, RCS Libri, Gems, Feltrinelli) has joined the programme. Giunti Editori currently is the largest Italian publisher in the KU program. The 15,000 titles include a large offer of manual, reference, professional, and other non-trade ebooks.
Among the highlights mentioned for the launch in Italy there’s the BigJump KDP Winner, Il cammino delle parole by the self-published debut author Veronica Gussoni. BigJump is the crowd-sourcing project launched by Rizzoli and Amazon in Italy in January. Gussoni reports that her first ebook has sold more than 3,000 copies over the summer.
As renting is not selling, fixed-price regulations don’t easily apply here. A download price can’t be compared with a subscription price. Moreover in Italy such laws apply only to physical books. Amazon may have launched KU simultaneously in Spain and Italy to gain impact in publicity.
In Spain, the KU subscription follows the well-established 24Symbols, as well as newcomer Nubico. Skoobe also has a presence. Subscription models seem to be attractive in Spain, where digital sales aren't really growing quickly and piracy appears to create serious competition. With its 25,000 titles in the language, KU offers Spain’s largest subscription catalogue, compared to a few thousand offered by the other subscription platforms.
The key difference is in self-published titles, which are exclusive to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program, in order to be part of the KU offer. eBook reading and e-readers aren’t too popular in Spain, so subscription offers for iOS and Android, as well as HTML5 web apps, may spur growth in the digital market. While in other markets, subscription is a way to expand digital growth, while in Spain it’s a way to get started.
In Italy, KU is the first serious subscription service, it arrives without competitors. Here, it looks like more of an early trial to stimulate and accelerate an already growing digital – thus, a limited catalogue of just 15,000 ebooks (many self-published) can be enough to start. Italy is a fertile market for experiments. Launching a service like KU won’t cost much to Amazon, as they can reuse the same technology in more advanced markets such the US and UK.
Moreover KU is a nice perk not only for current Kindle readers but also for new readers. In Italy, Amazon faces a strong competition from two other player that rely on e-ink readers: Kobo and Tolino. As Christmas e-reader sales approach, Amazon will be able to offer a unique selling proposition to new Kindle owners, something that Kobo and Tolino will hardly be able to match in such short time.
But KU may remain primarily a promotion tool until catalogue size and quality are seriously upgraded. In Italy, with over 500,000 print titles on sale, a digital subscription offer limited to less than 3% of titles (in Italian language) doesn’t look very “unlimited” in terms of quality or quantity. And good luck growing a market without the titles for the top four adult trade publishers and without the strong self-published inventory seen in the US and UK.
Nevertheless, by being the first mover with KU, Amazon clearly shows it cares a lot about the Italian market. They want to pre-empt the entry of other subscription services into the market. Italy unlike US, UK, Germany and Spain, is the first country in which Amazon is launching the KU service as a first mover, making the effort newsworthy.
Subscription programmes and their issues figure into The FutureBook Conference on 14th November at several points. Andrew Savikas of Safari is a panelist in the 11 a.m. session, "What Does the Future Publisher Look Like?" chaired by The Bookseller's Philip Jones. And 24Symbols' Justo Hidalgo and the Toloino-Messaggiere's partnership's Vincenzo Russi and Klaus Renkl are featured in a session, "What Is the Future of Content Retailing?" chaired by The Bookseller's Lisa Campbell.
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