A world of books at your fingertips

“BEWARE of the person of one book,” said Thomas Aquinas, a medieval friar and author. The risk of encountering such unscholarly types is rarer in modern times. Digital devices can hold dozens of e-books, so people can carry around a whole shelf of reading material with them. Now a new crop of e-book subscription companies is offering bibliophiles the chance to consume as many books as they like, from a huge range of titles, for a flat fee of around $10 a month.
It is a bit like having a whole lending library in your pocket—but with no need to return the books. In America the main providers of e-book subscriptions include Amazon, Oyster and Scribd. Similar companies have sprung up in Spain, Scandinavia and China. Their reach is limited so far, but it is growing. Around 4% of book buyers have tried an e-book subscription service in America, according to Nielsen, a research outfit.

The subscription model has already taken off in music and television, with providers such as Spotify and Netflix. Consumers have shown an increasing preference for such all-you-can-eat bundles, as opposed to buying each item separately. That worries book publishers and authors, who still make most of their money from sales of single copies. So far they have approached subscription services cautiously, holding back their newest and most popular titles from them. Only three of America’s five biggest publishers have so far made their works available on Oyster or Scribd.