TOSopeninglogoStar Trek fans are rejoicing, or at least semi-rejoicing, in the news that a new Star Trek TV series has just been announced for 2017. The series is going to be overseen by the writers from the controversial recent Abrams reboot movies, but at least it’s new Trek on TV, right?

Granted that Star Trek isn’t really an e-book-related matter (well, all right, it did popularize the idea of reading from tablet devices with the PADD in the late ‘80s to ‘90s, and it inspired the term “Picard’s Syndrome,” but that’s more of a side benefit), something pertaining to this series does bring to mind an important issue common to digital subscription distribution of all media—including e-books.

As Kris Naudus points out on Engadget, watching the series is going to require subscribing to yet another streaming service—the new CBS service, CBS All Access.

How willing are you to add another streaming service to your repertoire? Content is king, and this new Star Trek series is the first exclusive show announced for CBS All Access since the service’s launch in late 2014 — and it won’t debut until 2017. In the meantime, you have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO Now and a host of other services all hammering at your wallet. We may have been begging for “à la carte” programming, but that future is here and the cost is creeping steadily upward. The four services I just mentioned will run you around $40 a month combined, and that doesn’t include other types of programming, like sports ( is $25 monthly, for example).

Or anime, for that matter. Crunchyroll and FUNimation have their own streaming services for those. Ironically, just as we’re asking for our cable TV to be unbundled so we can subscribe to just what we want, unbundled video streaming services are building toward a cable-style monthly fee themselves if you want to sub to all of them. (As a member of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime myself, I know what they’re talking about.)

The same could be said for e-book subscription services. Amazon wants all its subscription e-books to be exclusive to its service, so anything you find in Kindle Unlimited, you won’t find on competitors. So if you want to read something that isn’t on the service you subscribe to, you’re going to have to get it some other way.

Oddly, the problem doesn’t seem to exist as much for music. Even the lesser-used subscription streaming services (such as Google Play Music) offer access to the same library of popular titles as most others, thanks to compulsory licensing agreements and agencies that will happy do business with anyone who will pay them. Only rarely do I come across an album I want that’s on one service but not another.

Are we going to find some kind of solution? Are people going to turn to piracy rather than subscribe to a new service for the sake of just one show? This is a question that digital services of all sorts (except, perhaps, music) are going to have to address sooner or later. Wouldn’t it be ironic if this leads to history repeating itself and digital services coming together to offer discount-rate collective bundles—just like cable TV?


  1. I think the bigger issue is whether these services will even be available to every potential viewer. That is Netflix’s true ace in the hole. In Canada, we don’t have Hulu and Amazon Prime, but we do have Netflix. So what will happen if this new special, proprietary app is only available to the Americans?

    The fallacy, for me, is that they assume the customer only has two options: use their app, or get cable. The third option—shrug your shoulders with a hearty ‘eff it’ and decide to skip this show altogether—never crosses their minds.

  2. What is needed are compulsory licensing agreements of the sort that prevented vertical integration in the music industry. Because Big Music came about in the progressive era, there are all sorts of regulations in place to prevent monopolist behavior. For example, anyone is allowed to cover any song because of a compulsory license designed to prevent a long forgotten company with a near monopoly in sheet music sales from extending it to music performance back c. 1900.

    Compulsory licensing would split content creation from content delivery. If Amazon offered such and such a shot at such and such a rate to one provider, it would have to give the same deal to EVERY provider. Content creators would compete on content and telecom companies would compete to bring it to your house. Right now the people that own the pipes are buying up the content delivery part of the market so they can force other content delivery companies to carry their “must see” channels at higher rates. It’s inefficient and anti-consumer.

  3. My guess is they’ll find out that a lot of their prospective audience won’t subscribe and will then make the series available on DVD at the very least. The cable channels found that out with series like Strike Back and Outlander. A lot of people don’t want to subscribe to a channel just for one show, why would they subscribe to a whole new streaming service for one show?

    For the two shows I mentioned, we even waited out the DVDs and, low and behold, they’re now available on Amazon for streaming.

    The free market punishes and rewards product decisions.

  4. I wouldn’t have a problem with bundling for a discounted fee provided you were allowed to design your own bundle. The big objection I have always had with Cable was that there were probably about 6 channels I watched, but I was charged for 50.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail