Books via Subscription: A Growing Trend?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
I recently received a letter sent to all agents with clients at Simon & Schuster from Carolyn Reidy, S&S’s president, announcing the publisher’s decision to offer backlist titles through ebook subscriptions services. S&S is the second of the large publishing houses to avail itself of these services, with HarperCollins being the first.
I’m letting you read portions of Reidy’s letter because I think she articulated well the benefits for publisher and author in offering backlist books through such services.
I am writing to follow up on today’s announcement that Simon & Schuster is now offering its backlist titles through the ebook subscription services Oyster and Scribd. We think this is exciting news: a great opportunity to encourage discovery for our authors’ books, and to experiment with new ways for readers to find and purchase books. However, because subscription services are still relatively new to the book business, I wanted to clarify what our participation means for Simon & Schuster’s authors.
Like you, we have watched with interest and learned much from the growth of subscription services in other media such as film, television and music. In taking this step, our first and foremost consideration has been to protect the interests of our authors and to safeguard the value of our content. Our entry into this new arena has been carefully planned to meet both of those requirements.
- Although these subscription services offer unlimited reading to the customer, an author will be credited with a sale every time one of his or her books is read, just as if the ebook had been sold through one of our ebook retailers.
- We have placed limits on the amount of browsing allowed in individual titles. Once a certain threshold of reading has been surpassed for a given title, a purchase will be triggered and credited to the author…
- As part of our agreements, Oyster and Scribd have committed to sharing with authors information on subscribers’ reading and purchasing activity of their titles.
We believe that working with these two services will help us encourage readers to try new books and authors, and allow us to experiment with a new model for offering books to consumers….
Late in May, Target announced it will pair with start-up Librify to offer some form of ebook club-subscription service, though an “official launch is still several months off,” USA Today reports. “The service will be targeted at women, especially young professionals and moms of the coveted Millennial generation,” Target spokeswoman Erica Julkowski says.
Librify founder Joanna Stone Herman “says there will be promotions and discounts for Target shoppers who arrive at librify.com through Target’s website, and in-store displays will promote the partnership.” Currently in beta, Librify positions itself as “the book club for book lovers.” They currently offer a free ebook of your choosing with a trial membership. Then the subscriber receives member discounts and one ebook for $8.99 per month, and a 10 to 20 percent discount on their catalog of approximately 500,000 ebooks. Librify also has a social platform around the ebooks, to provide a virtual book club experience.
Publishers Marketplace reported some of the terms of the deals publishers are making with subscription services: For S&S the distribution fee being paid to each service is less than the 30% being paid to the other ebook sales agents, so the actual royalty amount earned will be greater than the amount earned on a standard ebook sale. And Harper obtained “better terms from Scribd than we have from traditional ebook retailers.” Scribd ceo Trip Adler stated, “In our model, every publisher has the potential to make as much money or more when their books are being read on Scribd vs. purchased through traditional retailers.”Brian Murray, president and CEO of HarperCollins, stated, “We have negotiated very hard, to the point where if the whole business went this way, we and our authors would be very pleased, because the economics are more favorable.” He pointed out that it’s “the exact opposite of the music industry’s subscriptions models. The revenues that go to our authors is up, somewhat significantly.”
In his blog, Michael Shatzkin wonders if this model can work for both the subscription service and the publisher (and thereby the authors) when he says, “The viability of a subscription model depends on what is called ‘breakage’ or ‘health club economics’ to succeed. They count on the expectation that relatively few subscribers will read and trigger payments on two, three, four books a month compared to many who will read one or less than one, or who will choose from among books (like public domain titles) that cost the services less or nothing.” He also wonders if Amazon won’t up the ante by increasing the titles available to Prime members through the lending library. And he mentions that the largest publisher, Penguin Random House, might well start a subscription service of its own and possibly solicit the involvement of other publishers in that subscription service.
Regardless what the future holds, it’s clear that finding a way to make subscription e-book purchasing work is being approached from many angles.
As a reader, does obtaining books via subscription sound appealing to you?
As a writer, does such a service sound appealing?
Is buying books by subscription a growing trend? Click to tweet.
Publishers experiment with backlist sold via subscription. Click to tweet.