Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
In June I wrote about several initiatives exploring how to make book subscriptions work for authors, publishers and readers. You can read it here. In the brief time span since then, several new developments have occurred that I wanted to bring to your attention.
The biggest, of course, is Amazon’s entrance to the “party.” When the announcement was made, this news article compared the three major subscriptions services. What the article failed to mention is that 500,000 of Amazon’s titles one can read via subscription are published by Amazon. So the number of titles from publishers outside of Amazon actually is 100,000, and none of the Big Five publishers offers its books via Kindle Unlimited.
But Amazon’s decision to make a grand entrance into subscription services suggests Amazon sees this as an important trend it needs to be a part of.
And that’s why you, as a publishing professional, need to be aware of what the subscription scene looks like. I’ve viewed the results on our clients’ royalty statements from Simon & Schuster and from HarperCollins, the two of the Big Five who have signed onto “selling” books via subscription. So far this revenue stream isn’t big; but it’s a stream, not a trickle.
Just before Amazon announced the launch of Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, one of the two largest subscription services, proclaimed they had developed a new search engine to aid readers in discovering books they want to read. Since discoverability is the biggest challenge each book faces, this is big news. You can read more about it here. As the author of the article states, “A better book recommendation engine is one of the things that Scribd is hoping will help it succeed against its competitors, traditional book retail and other modes of entertainment.
“’If people see subscription services as purely an economic decision, then it can never work,’ said Friedman [Scribd co-founder and chief technology officer]. ‘The opportunity is to create a differentiated experience.’”
According to Scribd’s vp of marketing Julie Haddon, the company enlisted a “50-person team of scientists, book publishing experts, librarians, and marketers,” as well as a small editorial staff, to “work out the ideal browsing experience…” Using a “proprietary category structure” readers can browse major categories like fiction or history, niche levels such as Western Romance, or tailored lists like “Private Detective Novels Set in Los Angeles” and “Strangers in Strange Lands.”
Just to keep things accelerating on the subscription front, Wattpad has discovered readers love to engage in serialized stories they can subscribe to. You can read more about it here. The enthusiasm with which serialized stories has been met is a mix-and-match of fan fiction, self-publishing, and subscribing.
As Clive Thompson, the article’s author, points out, “Wattpad’s success may presage a shift in how fiction is written—and read—by the under-25 crowd that the site primarily serves. The first lesson? Serialization is a powerful way to get readers hooked. It’s an old trick, of course: 19th-century novels, including many of Charles Dickens’, were often serialized, and the suspense drove fans nearly mad. (“Is Little Nell dead?” New Yorkers hollered from the docks at boats arriving from the UK with the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop.) Wattpad readers subscribe to their favorite stories, getting an alert the instant a new chapter goes live—a sort of literary ‘status update.’
“This addictive approach to publishing drives a stunning amount of reading: 30 minutes a day for the average user, according to Wattpad CEO Allen Lau. And nearly 85 percent of it happens on mobile devices. The chapter-by-chapter approach also encourages authors to write on the go. They compose fully half of Wattpad’s stories—200,000 new chapters a day—on smartphones or tablets.”
Subscription reading is, as newscasters are fond of saying, a developing story. The good news is that a better search engine will spur on others in publishing and retail to help us to find the books we want to read; more subscription options makes it more likely we’ll find one that works for us; and more (young!) readers on Wattpad means more readers in the future. Good reason to cheer for everyone who wants new ways to read books–or help readers find yours.
How do you think these changes in the ways readers can access stories will affect you?
Does it sound fun or sheer madness to write a chapter-by-chapter novel on Wattpad?
What do the developments in book subscriptions mean to writers & readers? Click to tweet.