Is Amazon.com the New Netflix?

The next few weeks should be interesting for Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) .

The leading online retailer is widely expected to introduce a tablet soon, giving it a gadget that can take on both Barnes & Noble's (NYSE: BKS  ) Nook Color and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) breakthrough iPad.

A major advantage that Amazon will have over the competition is that it already has an unlimited video-streaming service in place. The Seattle-based e-tailer offers a limited selection of movies and television shows -- 8,000 titles strong and counting -- at no additional cost to members of its Amazon Prime subsidized shipping club.

Amazon's digital-video push, just as Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) is starting to charge disc-based subscribers $7.99 a month for streaming access, is being seen as an opportunistic by the popular Internet retailer. What if that's not the only way it's ripping a page out of Netflix's playbook?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting  that Amazon is in talks with book publishers to gauge interest in launching a Netflix-like service for digital books. Customers would pay a flat annual fee -- just as they do for Amazon Prime -- and then have unlimited access to the e-book library.

It won't be an easy sell, but it would be spectacular for Amazon if it's able to pull this off.

Taking the Kindle to the next level
The Kindle is an undisputed hit. Amazon has sold millions of e-readers over the past four years. However, it's still a hard sell for some diehard bibliophiles. Kindle books are generally cheaper than their hardcover equivalents, but they just can't hang on a bookshelf for bragging rights. Amazon has been beefing up virtual sharing options to close in on the real-world ownership experience, but it still needs that one killer app to make a Kindle as obvious an accessory for book lovers as a library card.

A digital smorgasbord of literature would do the trick, as long as it's able to talk some of the heavy-hitting publishers and authors into giving it a shot.

That won't be easy. Amazon will face the same resistance that Netflix has faced with Hollywood studios. If a book -- or a DVD -- will sell well on its own or fetch healthy ransoms as piecemeal rentals, why devalue it as part of a virtual buffet?

Kindle owners already have access to countless public-domain works, so it's not as if they'll be impressed by sheer quantity. They will need quality, too, and that is where the publishers hold all of the cards. It also doesn't help that publishers are already wary of the power that Amazon already has over them. They caught a break when Apple's iPad and Barnes & Noble's Nook successfully entered the market. If Amazon gets to lead the way here, the Kindle will grow its already significant market share.

Amazon wants this story to end one way -- but the publishers are pushing for a different conclusion.

If you want to see how Amazon's Kindle dreams play out, add Amazon.com to My Watchlist.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, and Apple, creating a bull call spread position in Apple, and buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He owns shares of Netflix and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On September 13, 2011, at 12:35 AM, megoogler wrote:

    Amazon's new "digital" library attempt is just a weak try to overcome Nook's huge advantage over Kindle as Nook (unlike Kindle) provides ability to check out library eBooks, and there are a huge number of libraries that provide ebooks in ePub format (that Nook supports but Kindle doesn't.) Also, if one goes to any Barnes & Noble store with a Nook, one's allowed to read any available eBook for free while in the store via free provided in the store Wi-Fi - another "library" option that is already there.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 10:24 PM, lustdemented wrote:

    With genre specific torrent sites carrying a greater selection and quality than netflix, a subscription is unnecessary outside of moral reasoning. As an author, the more ways people can read my work the better. The book industry is pretty boring and Amazon's making it a little interesting. I think it's cool people around the world can buy my book twenty-four hours and at the same time pick up a 12 pack of vacuum bags for their vacuum cleaner.

    I've already gave my blind consent to make my book Lust Dementedavailable for lending. If someone really wanted to I'm sure you can find an early version of it on a pirate torrent site or mediafire. If by some miracle the amazon pricing model coincides with mine and I make as much money as my nightjob... expect a lot more books. Ehhhh....either way expect a lot more books!

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