2014 may go down as the year of the subscription. It’s been something we talked about on this blog for many years. We discussed price point, the types of books we wanted to see
Back in 2009 we took a poll about subscriptions when a new company called Paper Egg[FN1] came out with an idea to supply two PRINT books a year for $20. Ebooks were just taking off and I wondered if subscription ebook clubs interested readers given the long and profitable history of direct to consumer book clubs like Doubleday. According to the 2009 poll, over 60% of respondents were not interested in a subscription service. Nearly a quarter would be interested if the service involved other publishers.
Two years later I proposed a new type of subscription service. With the ebooks gaining steam and more devices in the marketplace, I wondered about a subscription + ebook reader service. This time the poll resulted in over 300 responses. This time nearly half were ready to sign up immediately for an ebook reader + subscription service and only 28% were not interested. Amazon was offering the Kindle Paperwhite with a 6 month subscription for $30 (which is about a $29 savings) which is pretty darn close to the ereader + subscription service we discussed on the blog in 2011.
This time 65% of respondents would be interested in a multi publisher subscription service. Readers didn’t love the idea of buying and not owning but others were intrigued. Still others said that the library is already the subscription service we wanted. Many readers, me included, admitted that we would pay at least $20 for a Harlequin subscription. Now we’re paying $8.99 (if you belong to Scribd).
I have two subscriptions: Kindle Unlimited and Scribd. I rarely use my KU account even though I really only need to borrow four books to make it worthwhile. I use my Scribd one more often but subscriptions have led to purchases. I started reading Christina Lauren on Scribd and then bought their most recent release. I did the same with DB Reynolds Vampires in America. However, it’s true that most of the time I don’t buy new and I’ve bypassed buying books in favor of reading something already available to me at no cost via my subscription. (Although no cost is a misnomer since I pay $8.99 a month for it).
But if I wasn’t a reviewer and I wasn’t trying new books and new authors for the blog, I think I would be reading primarily within my subscription.
This is causing some authors a lot of dismay. H.M. Ward claimed on the Kindle Boards that participation in KU resulted in a 75% drop in her revenue. She pulled her books and now she’s at 50% of her pre KU sales. It’s important to note for unfamiliar readers that no author is forced into the KU program. Participation in the program is by choice. And it’s not that the authors aren’t getting paid for participation in KU, Scribd, Oyster. KU authors are paid out of a pool of money designated by Amazon. The individual payout has dropped dramatically since the launch of KU and I’m guessing, based on the downward trajectory, it will level off around $1 per borrow eventually. For authors who price their books at $2.99 or above, that’s at least a 50% dropoff but the question for those authors is whether the person would have bought it if borrowing wasn’t an option.
Privately some authors have shared that they aren’t thrilled with any subscription services because it helps to erode value of the books. Taylor Swift removed all of her songs from Spotify, a music streaming site. She felt that Spotify perpetuated the perception that music has no value.
And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.
I admit that I’m not a Spotify or Pandora user but rather listen to the radio or buy the songs that we like. (We is usually my daughter and we’ve had Blank Space on repeat for a month). These are some of the same arguments that have been shared with me as it relates to books. But the flip side is that newer authors or authors with smaller platforms could really benefit from the exposure of being in a subscription service.
I love having thousands of books available to be read at any given time. I understand that this is a subscription service and that I’m renting a book rather than owning but for the price, it’s worth it to me. I’m curious about subscription participants three years later.
How many of you are subscribers of an ebook service? What services do you subscribe to? If you don’t currently subscribe, what’s keeping you from subscribing?
fn1 I googled Paper Egg and it seems to be out of business.