Gaughran can run on a bit, but he really did ask the right questions, some of which are interesting to me, in particular this paragraph:
"So which kind of readers will it attract? Will it be all the bargain-hunting readers that swamp sites like BookBub and make limited-time 99c sales so effective? Will it gobble up the freehunters that make permafree such a winning strategy? Will it wean the power readers off box-sets? Will it increase the amount of reading (and, by extension, payments to authors) by those on tighter budgets? Will it be used by readers in addition to their normal purchasing habits, or will it replace them? Will it make short fiction and serials more attractive to readers? All interesting questions that will be answered over time."
I meant to ask my sister if she wanted this, and if I had been smart, I would have done so immediately and not only started the 30 day free but also saved the approximately $9.39 that she spent on a book which turns out to be included in Kindle Unlimited and by itself more or less justifies a full month of the subscription at the paid for level. Now, to be fair to my sister, she does not ordinarily spend that much on books (I encourage her to do so; she's just Real Cheap); she buys a lot of free books, 99c books and box-sets. I had looked over the Kindle Unlimited selection and concluded that I was reading too much academic press nonfiction and TradPub genre fiction that wasn't included, and too little of what was included, to bother with -- but I also noticed that I recognized some titles that she and other readers I know like her had really enjoyed over the last few months/year or so.
My sister finds the books she wants to read/buy by surfing through various recommendations and reviews on Amazon and other websites; her description of this process is one that I've read many times on other blogs. The goal is to feed the maw of time-to-read while keeping the cost-of-reading low enough. I, too, used to do this, only I don't any more, because I can buy any damn book I want (barring getting into antiquaria), so now I buy stuff when I hear the author being interviewed on NPR or watch them on the Daily Show, or the next book in a series I'm reading comes out or one of my friends on FB raves about something or WTF. Or I'm pursuing some nerd obsession and surfing through citations and bibliographies and notes and looking for books by people who are quoted in news stories or whatever.
It is in Amazon's interests to help its customers find value in the Long Tail; that is where it shines compared to All Other Retailers, who inevitably focus more on the bestsellers and the Known Quantities and the things which have already made it through layers of gatekeepers like slush pile readers and editors and buyers for the chain. Amazon needs people to read its Universal Slush Pile and successfully find stuff that they like. By differentiating, in Unlimited, between people who read more vs. less than a sample chapter (10%), and because they have recommendations engines that can mine the information they collect of how far into the book the buyer read, they have an opportunity to use their broke-ass customers to build a database that helps their not so broke-ass customers know which books are good for them.
Will it work?
Hard to tell. The problem with it is the one that Amazon's recommendations have been up against right from the beginning. Books are a large universe with sparse coverage. It's hard to find patterns, because it's hard to find overlap among customers that isn't just recommending bestsellers to everyone. But Unlimited helps customers: those who can now consume a lot more, at the price of 1-2 Real Books a month; they essentially have zero risk now in terms of experimentation, and possibly those who benefit from the behaviors of the voracious cheapskates. If voracious cheapskates have definite preferences and Unlimited lets them find more of what they like and abandon what they don't, then that information can percolate up to people who don't want to waste time or money on something they aren't likely to enjoy. Unlimited helps authors stuck in Long Tail purgatory: if they don't get _some_ kind of traction, they may never see more than the onesie twosie sales to people who already know them. Unlimited helps Amazon; those customers weren't going to spend much more money than that a month anyway, and they completely control the monthly cost.
I wish there were some way to find out whether the recommendation data coming out of this system is useful or not. But I have no intention of ever going back to work for someone else again, so I'm probably never gonna know. I mean, unless someone who does know feels like sharing, which seems unlikely, and probably a violation of their NDA.