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Scribd Announces Major Changes to Subscription Service

17 February 2016

From Digital Book World:

As part of the re-structured service, all Scribd users will receive unlimited access to “Scribd Select” books and audiobooks, a rotating collection spread across a variety of genres. In addition, all users will have access to three books and one audiobook of their choice each month from the entire Scribd catalog. Titles from Scribd Selects do not count toward the user-chosen titles.

The monthly fee will remain $8.99, and the changes will go into effect sometime in mid-March.

The announcement comes on the heels of two changes to its service Scribd made last year. In June, the company reduced the amount of romance books it offered, and in August it eliminated the unlimited audiobook component of its service and instead transitioned to a credit system, disincentivizing so-called “power readers” from listening to a disproportionate amount of audiobooks each month.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Jan for the tip.

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Audiobooks, Ebook Subscriptions

45 Comments to “Scribd Announces Major Changes to Subscription Service”

  1. Picture Gomer Pyle saying this:

    “Surprise, surprise, surprise …”

  2. Would Scribd and Oyster exist without backing from the Big 5 Publishers?

    Would Amazon create KU if Scribd and Oyster didn’t exist?

    The Big 5 Publishers might have shot themselves on the foot with this one by jump starting the ebook subscription service. Amazon felt a threat and started their own ebook subscription service 1 year later.

    KU will only grow bigger and bigger.

    The genie can’t be put back into the bottle now that it is out.

  3. “Hey readers, knock off all that reading! You’re putting us out of business!”

    So now subscribers get just 3 books of their choice per month for $9? I predict a lot of their customers will just decide it’s not worth it anymore.

    • That was the reaction at Mobileread.
      The “curated” part raised some hackles.

    • You could buy and own two or three indie ebooks for that. Scribd also gives unlimited access to the selected content, but do their selections match my tastes? The future of the service would seem to depend on the quality of the curation of the rotating selection.

  4. Self-publishers is only about half of KU (the other half is small/medium publishers and Amazon Publishing).

    It is very likely that the payout and All-Star bonuses from KU to self-publishers in 2016 will surpass $200 million

    2014 KU payout to self-publishers who enrolled:

    July was $2.785 million
    August was $4.7 million
    September was $5 million
    October was $5.5 million
    November was $6.5 million
    December was $7.25 million

    2015 KU payout to self-publishers who enrolled:

    January was $8.50 million
    February was $8.00 million
    March was $9.30 million
    April was $9.80 million
    May was $10.8 million
    June was $11.3 million
    July was $11.5 million
    August was $11.8 million
    September was $12.0 million
    October was $12.4 million
    November was $12.7 million
    December was $13.5 million

    2015 KU payout to self-publishers who enrolled:

    January was $15.0 million

    On top of that, there is the KDP Select All-Star bonuses of $1,164,000 each month.

    KU is now ENORMOUS, possibly with 2016 payout reaching as high as $400-$450 million USD to publishers and self-publishers who enrolled.

  5. Here’s the email:

    Thank you for being a part of the Scribd community. We are making some changes to the way our service works, and we wanted to let you know ahead of time.

    Starting mid-March, your membership will include:

    • Monthly Reads: three books and one audiobook of your choice from Scribd’s library of bestsellers and award winners

    • Scribd Selects: a rotating collection of books and audiobooks handpicked by our editors, to which you will have unlimited access

    • Substantial previews of any book or audiobook

    • Unlimited access to sheet music and documents

  6. You simply can’t run a viable ebook subscription service unless you can subsidize it in some other way. There’s no benefit to readers if the service costs as much as buying books, and there’s little benefit to writers if the service pays less than selling books.

    KU exists to bring in readers who then think ‘hey, I’m at Amazon anyway, I might as well order some more toilet paper’, so the same economics don’t apply.

    • Books as loss leaders! Yay!

      Not yay at all.

    • While Amazon obviously has an interest in being a one stop place for people’s every need, I don’t think KU is being run as a lost leader.

      Also, the benefits to both readers and writers is more complex than it simply being a good financial deal over purchasing.

      One nice thing about KU to me, is that I can dip into books easily without making a commitment. I’m not a fast reader, and I’m not sure in the long run I’m saving money over purchasing the books individually. In fact, I’ve ended up purchasing more books than before, in part because I get introduced to writers and not everything is available in KU, and also sometimes I skim a book in KU and then buy it outright so I can free up some of my ten KU slots. So in the long run, KU is costing me more money, but it’s worth it for the benefits. (Like books I can scan through and forget about.)

      Likewise, for writers, it’s not as simple as they could make X money on books as downloads and Y as KU. It’s alright to make a little less per book if in the end more people read your book and you make more money. Also, KU can be used for promotion. Finally, not all writers are motivated by money, many simply like to be read.

      I recently published a short book with the intention of eventually making it perma-free, because it seemed too short to charge money for (particularly since I’m a new author). To my surprise, it’s doing pretty well on KU. I’m not making a lot of money, but it’s being read and I’m making a dollar here and there so it’s a win/win. So, simply as a promotional and communication tool, KU has many benefits to writers.

    • You simply can’t run a viable ebook subscription service unless you can subsidize it in some other way.

      Sure you can. Just make the pot equal to the subscription revenue for the month.

      It’s viable as long as it has the selection of books to keep subscription money flowing.

      If anyone knows Amazon’s monthly KU subscription revenue, what is it?

      • “Sure you can. Just make the pot equal to the subscription revenue for the month.”

        And, if that’s not enough to make up for lost sales, the writers leave.

      • Just make the pot equal to the subscription revenue for the month.

        Minus costs, and some margin…?

        I am curious whether that would actually work in the long run. Music subscription services unfortunately don’t offer any guidance here, since they don’t follow a “pot” model, rather each song streamed has a specific price for the provider.

        • Yes, minus marginal costs. The subscription revenue would have to fund the entire endeavor.

          I’m curious if it even works in the short term. I don’t know. It’s a model that could work, but without evidence we don’t know if it is working.

          On a very simple level, it’s saying, “Here’s what consumers were willing to pay for you guys. Split it up.”

  7. That’s a good deal for readers. Audiobooks are expensive, and that’s a better deal than Audible membership, assuming Scribd offers a similar catalog.

  8. I talked to Scribd’s CEO briefly and wrote my own piece on it (which got Slashdotted! Go, me!).

    The interesting thing is that, according to the CEO, 97% of Scribd users actually don’t read more than 3 books per month. So for that 97%, they’ll actually be getting a wider selection, as they’ll be able to pick from books that formerly required a separate purchase, too.

    If it’s true that the majority of readers only read 3 titles per month, I think it might cast the potential sustainability of subscription reading programs in a whole new light. If they only have to stifle 3% of their subscribers, they’ll be a lot better off than Karma Wireless was when it abruptly had to cap its “unlimited” wireless plan.

    • This.

    • So, basically, they seem to be going for the AOL model: find customers who don’t use your service, and convince them to keep paying.

      I guess it works for AOL.

    • Seems to me that 3% are the only folks getting their money’s worth out of a subscription program.

      • And whose fault is it that, even if they aren’t “getting their money’s worth,” that 97% keeps willingly paying to subscribe anyway?

      • Maybe for most people the main point in such a service is not the 9 dollars spent, but the convenience. Imagine if I could have the same thing with my food/shampoo (I am very hairy, I would enjoy scale economies on shampoo) needs…

        • Except you’d then fall into that 3% that they don’t fully fulfill.

          Why yes, shampoo for the year is part of our yearly package; we assume of course that you only shampoo your hair once a month and only have to use half an ounce at a time. Here’s your six ounce bottle — have a nice day!

    • This is a good point, Chris.

      Readers, just like any other large group of people, are very diverse not only in the subjects they like, but also in their reading behavior.

      The old Book of the Month Club made a lot of money selling books to less than avid readers. I expect few of the people who regularly went to bookstores were Club members.

      Scribd may find its business is just fine without the very most voracious readers.

      • With Scribd, I like it for the same reason I like Hulu, quick ACCESS to whatever I want. I did sometimes read 10-12 books in a month, but some months I read nothing while I kept the subscription. Letting totals roll over AND leaving the rotating chunk of limitless access means it’s very unlikely that even heavy readers will be poorly served. The only ones that might not is voracious readers that always want to read particular books. I’m pretty voracious usually (Scribd is not my only source), but it’s made me willing to wait while I scarf down the less expensive or currently available material. I think it does strike an excellent compromise.

    • Chris, my comment : if the 97/3% divide was really valid, the Scribd wouldn’t have needed to cull its romance/erotica offering. Or maybe it is valid only now that the heaviest romance/erotica readers are out already. Which means it can’t be take as a general rule for future/all ebook subscription service.

      • I don’t know. Maybe you’d be surprised. I’m pretty sure I don’t get my money’s worth out of Netflix or Hulu, but I keep paying month by month for them anyway. And Amazon Prime, yearly.

        • I only have to not buy one DVD a month to have made up for the cost of my Netflix subscription. I’ve avoided buying a lot more than that in the last few months.

          And, with DVDs, there’s a real and substantial cost of distribution, so the movie companies may have made as much from whatever meager royalties Netflix pay as they would from that $9.99 DVD. With ebooks, there isn’t, so you’re trading whatever you would have made from a sale for whatever you get from the subscription service.

          • On demand is the better comparison which is like $6 per rental for movies. TV shows last I checked can’t really be rented, but cost $2-3 per episode.

      • There’s something wrong with a system set up so the best customers of the service are the ones you don’t want.

        Gyms often work that way: a lot of people sign up after the stand on their scales Jan. 1 – buy a year’s membership – and then don’t go.

        With a year between resolutions, you can even see those people repeating a couple of times (personal experience – in the family).

        But on a monthly subscription, people should get wise a little faster. After all, they can sign up again when they have more time to… read.

      • With a subscription service, people look to what they intend to do in the future, not what they actually did in the past.

        That’s how gyms keep going.

      • They’re bringing the romance/erotica back now.

  9. I was considering re-starting my Scribd subscription since I’m getting ready to research my next series. I read 10+ books per month, with a few weighty history tomes among them, so I’m probably Scribd’s worst nightmare. In my last Scribd go-round, I frequently read books that cost $20-40 as ebooks, had I purchased them. Oh well; guess I’ll be spending my money at Amazon.

    Though it’s annoying at my end, it’s probably smart of Scribd to get rid of readers like me.

    • Possibly your library would help more – check with the Reference Librarian.

      • Oh, I know. But I live in a semi, so don’t have access to a library, and even paper books are inconvenient. It’s a pretty unique situation, but I can make it work using technology, at least most of the time.

        • If you have internet access and a phone, you don’t have to go to my library. I was suggesting it because they should have – or be able to get – anything that is available (whether ebook or paper, that I would have to research). Interlibrary loans do a lot.

          I was able to borrow some very rare books from a consortium of Ivy League colleges’ specialized library backup for my son to use for his final paper at Caltech – one of the books hadn’t been out since the 1970s, I think. But we went in person, and I had to use my staff card. Interesting books, too. Written by academics, I’d guess. About Harlan County, KY and coal miner strikes, one of them.

          • I can borrow ebooks using my library card, but I don’t know about inter library loans. I used that a lot when I had in-person access, especially when I lived in a more rural area.

            I don’t need anything too specialized, since I write historical fantasy only very loosely based on real events. Scribd just had a nice combination of pop history, textbooks and academic books, though I don’t mind buying them on kindle when I can get them. I figure what I save on a year’s worth of Scribd can buy me quite a few ebooks, and in a pinch, used paperbacks.

  10. I’m a Scribd subscriber. Here’s the way I work the economics. The three books I’m reading now are:

    1. They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967Sep 23, 2003 | Kindle eBook
    by David Maraniss $14.99 Kindle Edition. Not available in KU

    2. The Backup Men Oct 4, 2011 | Kindle eBook
    by Ross Thomas $7.99 Kindle Edition, not available in KU

    3. The Lie: A NovelMar 4, 2014 | Kindle eBook
    by Hesh Kestin $16.00 Print Price $11.99 Kindle Edition, not available in KU.

    Total cost of the ebooks on Amazon is $34.97. My cost per month for those three books is $8.99. Plus I get 1 audiobook per month included (I also subscribe to Audible.) Someone explain to me why that’s not an attractive deal.

    My procedure when I see a book I want is to look on Amazon first (I love their ecosystem) and usually will buy if under $9.00 UNLESS it’s available on Scribd in which case I’ll make a note and get to it there later. Ironically, I rarely read KU books preferring to buy them if reasonably priced. Since I read mostly non-fiction perhaps the mix is off. I do use ereaderIQ and other services to notify me when books I want come down in price from the astronomical levels the legacy publishers seem to want.

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