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Summary:

Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, Amazon’s new unlimited monthly offering of movies, TV shows, apps, games and ebooks for kids, is a very ambitious program, and it could spur families into buying a new Kindle Fire tablet.

Amazon Kindle FreeTime Unlimited

Amazon’s new unlimited digital offering for kids, Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, is a very ambitious program. For a set monthly price, families get unlimited access to ebooks, movies, TV shows, educational apps and games aimed at 3-to-8-year-olds. Kindle FreeTime Unlimited works only on the newest Kindle Fires as an extension to Kindle FreeTime, the parental controls feature that lets parents set time limits on kids’ various uses of the tablet.

Households that subscribe to Amazon Prime will pay $2.99 per child or $6.99 per family (up to six kids) per month; non-Prime members will pay $4.99 per child or $9.99 per family per month. Content is “pre-screened for age-appropriateness.” Unlike the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which lets Kindle-owning Prime members borrow one free ebook per month from a collection of largely self-published titles, the content partners here are brands that kids will actually recognize: Sesame Street, Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS. That means characters like Dora, Elmo, Thomas and Cinderella — the good stuff.

You can see all of the content available through Kindle FreeTime Unlimited here. The books are a particularly strong point: There are over 1,000 titles, and participating publishers include Chronicle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Andrews McMeel. Since many of these books cost over $4.99 apiece, this is clearly a good deal. Some other companies are trying to offer all-you-can read children’s ebooks: The startup Bookboard, for instance, which works on iPad;  Ruckus Reader; and Scholastic’s Storia. But Amazon is ahead in the variety of the offerings and the price.

Kindle FreeTime Unlimited also seems to fit with the way children actually act. Bookboard and Ruckus both focus on reporting back to parents about children’s reading skills and time spent reading. FreeTime Unlimited gives kids freer rein to simply watch the same thing over and over if they want to, or to play the same stupid game, and categories like “princesses” pull together the different types of media that a Cinderella-loving kid might enjoy.

There are caveats. The main one is that you need to own one of the newer Kindle Fires, starting at $159. Kindle FreeTime Unlimited won’t work on older Kindle Fires and it’s not an iOS app, so if you want it you may need to buy a new device. But Amazon is betting that it will entice parents to do just that. Netflix’s “Just for Kids” section is also a competitor, of course, and is available not just on tablets but on connected TVs and many other devices. But that’s just movies and TV, and since it is included with an adult’s Netflix subscription, it seems unlikely that a household would cancel its Netflix membership and go with Kindle FreeTime Unlimited instead.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Scholastic owns Ruckus Reader. Scholastic owns Storia, and Ruckus Reader is a separate company. I apologize for the error.

  1. How will the economics of this work? Why will content be provided at cheaper net rates overall? Who takes the hit?

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    1. Daniel Chisholm Wednesday, December 5, 2012

      It’s a strategic growth move so probably subsidized by AMZN just like they are doing with the new Fires. It also doesn’t indicate how recent those titles are. If they are older, they could negotiate much better terms.

      Thin margins in exchange for growth… the same formula they used for the shopping business back in Web 1.0 if I recall correctly.

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  2. Another great idea from Amazon. Prime has really taken off, along with the kindle fire, so this seems like a great evolution.

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    1. Yes every race to the bottom idea is a great one.

      Like the above comment said who is taking the hit.

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  3. I just skimmed the available content, and it’s pretty thin. Maybe very good for the 3-5 set, but there are very few mostly-words books for the 6+ readers. Honestly the bulk of the content looks like the throw-away paper backs you find at the doctor’s office. I can see this being a good substitue when you can’t get to the library but otherwise meh.

    And at first I thought this was a great idea, we’ve bought a bunch of chapter books for my son on the Kindle. He likes reading and the e-ink resolution is just fine for the sketches that most books have, plus at his young age, adjusting the font size is helpful. But I don’t think this adds much to media-thoughtful and cautious parents like myself.

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  4. Though I didn’t dig too deep, I don’t see any self-published ebooks on the list … which disturbs me a little.

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