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商业 - 科技

亚马逊借阅计划的隐忧

JP Mangalindan 2011年11月09日

我喜欢我的Kindle阅读器。再说,能借书而不用再掏钱买书,这一天我也等了很长时间。但是,尽管亚马逊最近推出的借阅计划顺应了业界时下普遍的潮流,但却让我生出一份忧虑。

    Kindle生态系统有许多招人喜欢的地方。从规模最大、触手可及的精选数字图书资源之一,到跨平台同步功能,杰夫•贝佐斯和亚马逊公司(Amazon)都努力让它们能“有效运作”。当然,Kindle同样有许多地方让人喜欢不起来,这得看你是谁——到底是消费者,出版商还是竞争对手:比如书库里有些书受到数字版权的保护,它们会让读者思量再三,是否要转投亚马逊某个竞争对手的怀抱;又比如坚挺的价格,让电子书读者的规模始终成不了气候。而它最新推出的电子书借阅计划则让我看到了某种暗藏的风险,尽管原因并不是人们想象的那样。

    Kindle用户借阅图书馆(The Kindle Owners Lending Library)让拥有Kindle和Kindle Fire,同时也是亚马逊尊享订阅者的用户可以从规定的5,000本书中借阅一本。然而,跟Kindle商店(Kindle Store)中上百万本书比起来,这个数字简直不值一提。对此,现在还有其他一些限制条件:用户借出书籍之后可以随便看多久,但每次只能借一本,每个月只能借一本。

    这类大规模的数字图书借阅开拓项目我已经等了很久,但它也让我开始思索:这种项目究竟意味着什么。目前由互联网公司推出的各类项目,如网飞公司(Netflix)的Instant,音乐订阅服务Spotify,以及亚马逊在这一项目之前推出的电影流媒体服务,都让我们发现,这类公司正在逐步推开“敞开自助”式(all-you-can-eat)的商业模式:用户要想获得数字内容,就要支付一小笔固定费用。

    对消费者来说,这种模式的好处是显而易见的。通过这种方式,网飞Instant和Spotify的订户可以获得比点播式购买更多的内容。如果每个月只需付10美元就畅听无数金曲,为什么还要在苹果公司(Apple)的iTunes上花1美元买一首歌呢?

    正如Spotify的首席执行官丹尼尔•艾克今年早些时候对《财富》杂志(Fortune)所称,让用户按照这种自助餐方式“获得”内容是大势所趋。因为他相信,一旦用户尝试过这种方式,他们就会被牢牢吸引,进而订阅尊享计划。显然,这对生意来说大有好处。

    然而,对用户来说,这种模式也有缺点,不过它暂时还不明显,主要是由于这一模式尚处于发展初期。一旦订阅了这类服务就意味着用户放弃了对所消费内容的所有权。在亚马逊这一服务中,亚马逊尊享计划要求用户支付固定费用,但用户实际上并不拥有自己借阅的数字图书。

    这种模式中,租用与拥有形成了最基本的对立关系。其中一种情况,用户支付金钱是为了拥有某种东西。而在另一种情况下,用户支付费用则只是为了临时使用某种商品、服务或财物付费。短期来看,根据用户所消费的媒体内容的多寡,“租用”可能确实要比“拥有”更实惠。不过,就长期而言,用户所花的钱带来的回报反而减少了。

    而无论如何,都会不可避免地出现一个节点,用户人数开始大幅下滑并流失。也许有人可能会认为这永远不会成为现实,但是请看看网飞公司的遭遇。很多人认为,这是一家永远不会犯错的公司,直到它错误地调高了服务价格,并重回老路,剥离了DVD租赁业务后,大家才意识到并非如此。在其最近一个财季中,这两大失策之举让它流失了80万名用户。(先就别提其股价的大幅下挫了。)

    这并不是说,其他采取类似模式的公司也会跟着栽跟斗,或者“敞开自助”式商业模式本身就不是什么好东西。不过,我还是担心,数字内容所有权这一概念将来某一天会寿终正寝,我们作为消费者也不再有多少选择余地;再者,要想一直享用这些内容,我们会发现,自己日益变得囊中羞涩。

    译者:清远

    There's a lot to like about the Kindle ecosystem. Jeff Bezos and Amazon have made sure of that, from one of the largest digital book selections around to a cross-platform syncing feature that "just works." Of course, depending on who you are -- consumers, publisher, competitor -- there's also lots to dislike, too: DRM-protected books that make users think twice about leaving for a competitor or relentless price undercutting on the company's e-readers. Its latest effort, an e-book lending program, raises a red flag for me, though not for the reasons you might think.

    The Kindle Owners Lending Library will let Kindle and Kindle Fire owners who are also Amazon (AMZN) Prime subscribers check out a book from a limited selection of 5,000 titles, far shy of the one million-plus available in the Kindle Store. There are a few other catches right now, too. Users can take out a book for however long they like, but they'll only be able to check out one title at a time, and then only one title a month.

    I've waited for a big digital book lending push like this, but it also got me thinking about what the program signifies. Like Netflix (NFLX) Instant, Spotify, and Amazon's own movie streaming service before it, we're seeing Internet companies inch towards an "all-you-can-eat" business model where users pay a flat fee for digital content.

    The benefits for consumers are obvious. Netflix Instant and Spotify subscribers are exposed to more content this way than if they paid for media a la carte. Why pay $1 a song on Apple's (AAPL) iTunes when you can pay $10 a month to listen to as many songs as you want?

    As Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Fortune earlier this year, giving users "access" to content in this buffet-type fashion is the future because, he believes, once users try it, they'll get hooked and sign up for a premium plan. Obviously, that's great for business.

    For users, there's a drawback that isn't nearly as obvious yet, largely because it's still early days. By subscribing to one of these services, they're relinquishing ownership over the content they consume. In Amazon's case, you pay a flat fee for Amazon Prime, but you don't actually own the digital books you are lent.

    It's renting versus owning in its most basic form. In one scenario, that money is going towards something that's yours. In the other, you're paying for temporary use of a good, service or property. Depending on how much media you consume, "renting" may actually be more cost-effective than "owning" in the short-term. In the long run however, your money arguably gets you less of a return.

    And regardless, there inevitably comes a point when subscribers cut and run. You might not think that will ever happen, but look at Netflix, a company many thought could do no wrong until it mishandled a price hike and backtracked on a spin-off of its DVD business. Those two faux-pas helped cost it 800,000 customers in its most recent quarter. (Let's not get started on the hammering its stock took.)

    That's not to say the other companies here will trip up or that the "all-you-can-eat" business model is even a bad thing per se. But I do worry that digital ownership could one day be a defunct concept, that we as consumers won't have much in the way of choice, and all we'll have to show for our continued patronage is a lighter wallet.

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