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Digital book subscriptions

In 2009, we visited the idea of subscriptions in the form of a couple of two different models. The first was whether readers would be interested in an ebook reader rent to own sort of deal, kind of like cell phone subscriptions.

186 respondents said yes whereas 109 said no. 100 were uninterested.

[poll id="150"] The price of digital readers has fallen to around $100 so I don’t know if the subscription ereader plan makes financial sense. Many of the readers who commented talked about the financial investment of the digital reader.

The second subscription poll I ran was whether readers were interested in a subscription based ebook club. This poll generated a lot less interest. 61 were not interested. 11 were interested and 25 were only interested if it was with different publishers.

[poll id="154"]

Ebooks have come a long way since 2009. Ebook readers are substantially less expensive. There are purportedly 40 million digital readers out in the wild not counting the apps that are downloaded to iThing and Android devices constantly. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are selling more digital books than paper books. The rise of self published books priced at $.99 are causing some in publishing to believe that the low priced entrants are causing downward pressure on prices. Because of piracy concerns, many publishers are locking down their books with DRM and only licensing the books to readers for a unspecified term of use.

As readers of digital books, first sale rights such as resale, lend, trade are eliminated, also driving value down. In other areas of entertainment, subscription access is rising. Pandora and Spotify in music and Netflix and Hulu in movies are offering streams of content for a monthly fee. Can books really withstand this type of consumer demand? Google was going to offer institutional subscriptions if the settlement got approval.

Subscriptions bring up a couple of issues. First, what would be included in the subscription. Second, how would you access those books? Third, what would be the cost. (This only examines the consumer side of this. The author/royalty side of this is a whole other mess).

Someone in publishing suggested that Overdrive has the mechanism in place to provide subscription access (particularly now that it has a partnership with Amazon). Overdrive could allow you access for a certain fee under certain circumstances. Perhaps this is a way to monetize library access. My library system has a fast access checkout. For $1 or more you can pay to bypass the wait lines and check out the popular books right away. I liken it to the Disney World Fast Pass. A library subscription servcie that would allow you access to all its titles for a fee

Of course, the devil is in the details. Pandora and Spotify allow you access to millions of songs, including all of the latest hits. Pandora is free with ads or $36 a year. Pandora has some restrictions. It cannot play the song you want at the time you want. It cannot play more than four songs by a particular artist in a three hour period. Some artists restrict the playtime of their music to even fewer than four songs per three hours. You cannot rewind or replay any song and you cannot download or cache any music. You must have an active internet connection.

Netflix allows unlimited streaming access but the subset of DVDs available for streaming is much smaller than its entire DVD library. For those who want access to Blue Ray DVDs, you have to pay more. Further, like the Pandora limitations, you don’t get to decide which movies you want to stream. Instead you get a selection. Fortunately, Netflix and Pandora have made their applications available on a variety devices but unlimited access is not without its restrictions and well, limitations.

One would assume that any such subscription like service for books would have similar limitations. It is the limitations and restrictions that encourage out right sales.

I thought that Harlequin might be uniquely suited to offer up subscription access. It has probably 20,000 books digitized and they are constantly adding more. What would you pay to have access to the entire database, knowing that you are only getting access and that should Harlequin decide to shut down its subscription service you would no longer have access? Right now I pay around $25 for my Harlequin Presents subscription wherein I get 8 Harlequin Presents books a month. I would easily pay $25 per month for access to the entire Harlequin category database.

Others, however, have no interest in a one publisher only database (particularly one filled with category books). I don’t see unfettered access to every book published coming anytime soon, if ever, but I certainly believe that a Netflix or Hulu Plus or Pandora will exist for books.

Is that something you would be interested in and if so, what parameters are you looking for in terms of what is included, how you would access your subscription, and what would be the cost you were willing to pay.

[poll id="237"]

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

32 Comments

  1. Nadia Lee
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 04:07:30

    About $30 / month for a multi-publisher selection. Since I read about 2-3 books a week at the most, I think it’s a good deal for me & the pubs, esp. since I don’t get to own anything at the end.

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  2. Evangeline Holland
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 06:15:39

    I would vote yes, but I can’t help but think about this with my author hat pinned firmly on my head.

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  3. Cris
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 06:24:04

    I’d be interested. Since I read voraciously (10-15 books a week), a multi-house pub deal would be good if it was the big publishers. That I’d pay $30 for. But just like Netflix, if it’s too limited, it’s just not worth it even if its super cheap. It just becomes extra that I’m spending on top of my regular purchases.

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  4. Man of la Book
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 06:30:44

    This is a dangerous model.
    We already have this type of model, it’s called the public library. So now what?
    For profit publishers are going to compete with non-profit libraries?

    By the way, Netflix is the best service…ever :)

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  5. Laura Wilson
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 07:29:36

    I use overdrive. Like the library, it’s useful for discovering if you like certain authors or not. But, probably like a lot of other people, I love to re-read, so I buy the ones I really enjoy.

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  6. nearhere
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 08:13:50

    I currently subscribe to Harlequin Reader service and get my paper HPs months before they are available in the US. The primary reason I like the subscription is because I don’t have to wait for titles from new authors. I would be really happy if this type of model where you get your books or ebooks before they are available in stores was integrated into other romance subscription plans. I don’t even mind paying extra to read books two months earlier.

    I also tend to read Harlequins that I would be less likely to buy in a store since I get them all together. (I can’t pick and choose the HPs I get – I have to buy all that months books) If Avon, for example, had a monthly subscription plan I would probably read books by authors and debut authors that I overlook when I pick and choose and buy in the bookstore.

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  7. Mireya
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 08:49:06

    I was among the early “adopters” of Napster back in 1998. When Napster was slammed with the lawsuit and later on bought by a large company to establish it as a subscription service, I had already subscribed to Rhapsody. There were other music rental services already in place at the time including Apple’s. I have Rhapsody to Go, and it does have limitations, including the fact that in order for you to be able to use that option, you need a device that is Rhapsody authorized. Once you cancel the subscription, you lose the access. The music I chose to upload to my music player is not my property, but rather a “rental”. I am perfectly okay with that. I’d be willing to subscribe to a book rental service along those lines. I’d be willing to get a dedicated device like I had to do with Rhapsody as long as the price is reasonable. Heck, they could even offer for rent dedicated e-reading devices to use with their service.

    Either way, I’d be interested and likely subscribing, if I had the option.

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  8. Cindy
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 08:50:13

    I voted no. If I’m going to pay for it, I want to be able to keep it. And I certainly wouldn’t want a time limit on how long I had to read books I’ve paid for. Not to mention I’ve never been able to set up the WiFi on my ereader.

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  9. Shannon Stacey
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 08:53:00

    I voted Yes and one publisher subscriptions would interest me, which, as of right now, puts me firmly in the minority.

    Would I pay a monthly fee to have access to all the Harlequins in all the land? Most certainly. I don’t really see myself doing it with any other publishers, though.

    As an author, though, I’m not as excited by the possibilities.

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  10. LG
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 09:15:55

    @Laura Wilson: Is it possible to have a personal, individual subscription to Overdrive, or are Overdrive books provided to you via your public library. If the latter, then, actually, this is as much part of your public library as the library’s physical books. If the former, then, huh, I hadn’t realized that individuals could pay for Overdrive subscriptions.

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  11. Keishon
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 09:19:15

    I voted no. I am uninterested in paying for access to to a publisher’s entire catalog just to read it and return it.

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  12. Jane
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 09:22:49

    @LG: No, Overdrive doesn’t have this option. I was just arguing that it had the infrastructure in place to roll out this sort of feature.

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  13. becca
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 10:19:35

    I voted for multi-publisher. I read books by author, not publisher – I don’t think I know the publisher of most of my favorites (unless it’s Baen). I don’t have enough time to read as it is… I’m not going to read a book by a new author unless it’s highly recommended by review sites I trust. (this is what’s keeping me from getting into indy authors – I haven’t found a good review site for indy books yet)

    If the price per book for a book rental site was around $1 or $2 per book, I’d be interested, however, particularly if the rental system allowed me access to author’s backlist, and not just a selection of certain books each month.

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  14. Rose Fox
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 10:25:26

    I wouldn’t trust DRM-protected digital subscriptions for books now that it’s been revealed that canceling a Kindle magazine subscription means you lose access to all the past issues.

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  15. chanceofbooks
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 10:28:17

    I voted yes for single publisher subscription and I could see paying $20ish for harlequin subscription BUT I would want access to all imprints, not just the category books. I wouldn’t pay for access to just the category books as I don’t currently purchase enough of them to make it worth it for me. But, I have had months where I have easily spent $30 bucks on HQN/Mira/Carina and other Harlequin ST imprints. I’d want access to newer releases–maybe not the same month as release, but I would want predictable releases (i.e. 1 month or 2 months after release date, not just randomly appearing when sales slow or as special offering). Harlequin isn’t the only publisher that I would pay for single publisher access for–I could see paying for Samhain subscription or Sourcebooks or Kennsington.

    I’d easily pay $30 for multi-publisher access even just two publishers like Harlequin + Kensington. Or an e-publisher group like Samhain + Carina + Ellora’s Cave. Again, however, I’d want access to new releases on predictable schedule, including best-sellers. It just wouldn’t be worth it to be to get access to older editions of mid-list titles.

    If overdrive were to offer a subscription, I would need to see LOTS more romance offerings and more recent releases. Our library’s Overdrive selection has almost no romance later than 2009 copyrights and very, very poor selection. I’d want to see more authors, more sub-genres represented, more heat levels represented, and newer releases. Also I’d want to see entire series. Right now, Overdrive has lots of Random books. I.e. Book 7 but no others, Books 2 and 6 but no others, etc.

    GREAT TOPIC! Very thought-provoking.

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  16. Jane
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 10:58:29

    @Rose Fox: I thought Teleread proved that to be untrue? Although I do believe that the idea of Netflix et al is that for a much reduced price you get access instead of ownership.

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  17. Rose Fox
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 11:03:25

    @Jane: If it’s been debunked I’d love to know! I haven’t seen anything contradicting the reports.

    The idea of a Netflix-like service is more appealing but I don’t think of that as subscription; it’s much more like library access. When I hear “subscription” I think “They send everyone the same thing on a fixed schedule, and you keep what they send”.

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  18. Jane
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 11:09:28

    @Rose Fox I’m not certain all the ins and outs of the Kindle newspaper and magazine subscriptions but this is what I read at Teleread.

    What would you call Netflix or Pandora?

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  19. Rose Fox
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 11:14:23

    @Jane: Ah, thanks for that link; very interesting.

    I don’t use Pandora, so I don’t know what to call it! I would call Netflix a lending library or rental service.

    (Sorry about the duplicate; my comment didn’t show up the first time.)

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  20. willaful
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 11:47:52

    Unless you strip the DRM, ebooks are basically rentals anyway, so I love the idea. I had been thinking about this already, though along the lines of inexpensive pay-per-read rather than a subscription service. But either could work, at the right price.

    There are already services that “compete” with the public library in this area, so I don’t really follow that argument. The library does the best it can, but it will never have the resources to meet everyone’s needs, unfortunately.

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  21. Janine
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 11:47:53

    @Nadia Lee:

    About $30 / month for a multi-publisher selection. Since I read about 2-3 books a week at the most, I think it’s a good deal for me & the pubs, esp. since I don’t get to own anything at the end.

    A lot depends on the individual reader’s reading speed, doesn’t it? I read about 4-6 books a month, so $30 would be a high price for me.

    Also, like @Man of la Book, I worry about what this would mean for the future of libraries.

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  22. Nadia Lee
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 12:43:11

    @Janine: Maybe having a tiered system is better. So something like $20 for up to 8 rentals, $30 for 12 or whatever.

    I think people will still use libraries, esp. if they live near good / convenient branches. But I think subscriptions can help people who live too far or are not adequately served by their local libraries. I don’t live in the States and don’t have a decent library where I am. So I don’t mind the idea of paying to borrow ebooks, assuming that participating authors are adequately compensated, not just publishers and subscription service providers.

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  23. SAO
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 12:53:27

    I’d definitely be interested in a subscription service. I would not be interested in one where I couldn’t download books ala Overdrive, since I often read where there is no internet.

    The selection of books would have to be very wide, though. I wouldn’t be interested in, say, the limited offerings of the book-of-the-month club, but something more like a well-stocked public library.

    I wouldn’t want to sign up for a year without having tried the service for a few months first.

    I might be interested in single publisher, only at a very limited price. I’m not going to pay $30/month to lots of different publishers and I’m not going to limit my reading by publisher.

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  24. Karen
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 13:18:12

    Interesting that I seem to be in the minority here – I would not be interested in a subscription model. I pick my books to read based on my feeling and mood at the moment. I often buy books and then don’t read them until years later. I don’t think that would be possible with a subscription – you would probably only be able to pick from a limited selection of books that are available at the time. I don’t want to be in the mood for a historically detailed medieval and be told, “sorry, those aren’t popular right now so we don’t have any of them”. I want to be able to go to my TBR pile and pick out a Roberta Gellis that I bought 15 years ago and haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

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  25. ElizabethN
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 14:54:15

    Voted “no.” I read ebooks the same way I do paper books, which means I now have two huge sets of TBR books. So I would not be interested in an ebook model which limits the time I have to access a book.

    If truly interested in such a model, I could sign up today at the library and get access to most publishers.

    From what I’ve read at Teleread, here and elsewhere on the net, I thought the publishers were more interested in having a “cloud” based system. I currently have the illusion of “owning” my ebooks, books only available in the “cloud” would definitely destroy that illusion.

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  26. Kristi
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 15:37:58

    I voted Yes with just one publisher. I would OBVIOUSLY want multi-publishers but if Avon or Harliquin would create one, I would totally sign up for theirs!

    It feels like it is close! I wish! I hope!

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  27. chanceofbooks
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 18:00:42

    @ElizabethN: Unless your library has a drastically better overdrive (e-book library service) selection than those I have seen at our library, my mother’s in IL, and my aunt’s in NY, you would not get access to as many titles and publishers as you might think. Overdrive has a very limited number of romance titles available–even more limited than the paper selection at most libraries. I love our library and libraries in general, but I wish Overdrive had more titles available.

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  28. ElizabethN
    Apr 24, 2011 @ 20:27:57

    @chanceofbooks: The library ebook situation, which is even worse in western Nebraska (I’m amazed sometimes that access even exists), and the time issue is why I buy my ebooks.

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  29. Mitzi H
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 02:22:04

    No, I think I would rather own my ebooks the same as I do my paperbacks. I like rereading many of my books and I also start-n-stop a lot if a book drags a bit. I don’t want to be restricted to when or how many times I can read all or part of it. I might be naïve but I thought once you purchased an ebook for Kindle, etc. it would stay in your library or on your Kindle until you removed it. Is there a limit on how many times you can reread your ebooks? If so, that might change my decision…..and I will probably go back to paperbacks.

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  32. Michelle
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 20:10:27

    Huih, 30 dollars a month, to how many publishers, naw, can,t do it , I can,t. Afford it, sorry I rather downloaded the books, I just want the ereader.

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