Even the most voracious readers will take a few months to get the most out of Amazon.com's latest offer: access to 600,000 e-books and 2,000 audiobooks for a monthly fee of US$9.99. What publishers and authors will get out of it remains to be seen.
Subscribers to the new service, available only in the U.S. for now, will see a "Read for Free" logo next to included titles when they are logged in and browsing the company's catalog online from a Kindle device or using the Kindle reading app on a PC.
Amazon is offering a 30-day free trial of the service, and new subscribers will get free access to the 150,000-title Audible audiobook library for three months, it said.
Although Amazon calls the service "unlimited," there are of course limitations: Customers can only borrow up to 10 books at a time, rather than keep an unlimited number on their device. The books have a DRM (digital rights management) wrapper, and borrowed books can only be accessed with a valid subscription, the company said.
The book selection contains recent top sellers such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. However, a search for Kindle Unlimited titles also quickly reveal hundreds of short, independently-published straight-to-Kindle stories that would cost just over a dollar to buy. There are also multiple editions of classics including George Orwell's Animal Farm, one of the titles Amazon highlighted in its news release, the duplicates all counting toward the 600,000-book total.
News of the planned service leaked Wednesday, when Amazon inadvertently published details to a page on its website titled "KU Test."
The launch of Kindle Unlimited opens a new front in Amazon's war with book publishers to control prices for e-books, as it dissociates the act of reading from a specific payment to a publisher or author.
Amazon has recently been criticized for delaying delivery of books by French publisher Hachette, refusing to maintain significant inventory of the books until Hachette agrees to give it more flexibility on e-book pricing.
Kindle Unlimited will also spell trouble for e-book rental service Oyster, which also charges $10 per month. It launched its service with an iPhone app last September, and earlier this month released a version for Android users.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org.