There Are Lots of Ways Amazon's Netflix for Books Could Fail

The online retailer is in talks with publishers to launch a new e-book rental service

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The way people shop for and consume content is changing: all digital, all the time. TV, movies, books--we like buying and watching (or reading) from one convenient Internet powered device. Amazon is at the forefront of this movement to the Web, as we've noted,  So the idea that the online retailer would create a Netflix-esque type service for books makes complete sense. " Inc. is talking with book publishers about launching a Netflix Inc.-like service for digital books, in which customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content, according to people familiar with the matter," The Wall Street Journal's Stu Woo and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg report. Yet, Neflix's success with movies might not translate in to e-books.

If Amazon's service takes off, the company would latch it onto Amazon Prime, which charges $79 per year for free shipping and other perks like Amazon's answer to Netflix, its streaming movies. People like Prime, so getting users hooked via that service is a good moves argues The Examiner's Michael Santo: "It makes sense. has leveraged its Amazon Prime memberships for other things before, and the service is quite popular already." Yet, most people have signed onto Amazon prime for its shipping benefits, not its movie service--a foreboding sign for books. " launched its long-awaited subscription video-streaming service as part of Amazon Prime, setting itself up to be a serious rival to Netflix. If we’re honest, it has yet to take off," points out The Next Web's Zee.

Amazon hasn't exactly proven that they understand the Netflix game, but if they can get publishers on board they might have a chance. Part of Netflix's success derived from its relationship with studios, which helped it provide premium content that would lure subscription fees out of user's pockets for the added perk. If Amazon can pull that move, they might have a worthy product.

For now, it's not yet clear if they will have that allure. Amazon would pay a "substantial fee for participating in the program," explain Woo and Trachtenberg, but publishers might not dig a rental service. Publishing executives would rather have people buy their books, and they are concerned that participating in the program could create the impression among consumers that books have little inherent real value.  "Several publishing executives said they aren't enthusiastic about the idea because they believe it could lower the value of books and because it could strain their relationships with other retailers that sell their books," they write. Given its book retailing business and very successful Kindle platform, you'd think Amazon would have the best chance at wooing publishers, and thus consumers. But, in a separate story, Trachtenberg reports how the retail model that Amazon champions already has publishers worried. "If e-book prices land at 99 cents in the future we're not going to be in good shape," said one New York publishing told him.

There are other book rental services like this out there, but as Zee points out, they just aren't that good. "The idea isn’t entirely new with services like ‘the library’, and bookswim existing for some time but both are currently primarily for offline paperbacks and hardbacks. There’s also 24symbols which recently launched a near identical offering, but currently only features titles that are public domain rather than premium bestsellers." And of course, there's Apple's iBooks, but that hasn't done so well either "because of its lacking selection of books, poor access across multiple mobile platforms and its fewer features such as desktop reading, community highlighting, etc." continues Zee. If Amazon does it right, looking to the successes of Netflix and learning from the mistakes of its competitors, we might be renting our next beach read on the Amazon tablet. But those are a lot of ifs.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.