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Amazon’s all-you-can-eat kids’ Kindle content should scare competitors

Laura Hazard Owen

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.

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