Ebook Subscriptions

PRH Still Doesn’t Like the Subscription eBook Model (The Fools!)

26 August 2016

From The Digital Reader:

Penguin Random House has in the past denied that readers want an ebook subscription service.

What with Kindle Unlimited now paying authors and publishers more than the Nook Store, and possibly even more than Kobo or Google, that excuse was getting a little thin, but recently PRH changed its tune.

The global CEO of Penguin Random House, Markus Dohle, was speaking at the Global Top 50 Publishing Summit at Beijing International Book Fair in China earlier this week . According to The Bookseller, Dohle said that:

PRH had not signed its titles up for any subscription services, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Mofibo or Scribd, because the ‘all you can eat’ models threaten to “devalue” intellectual property (IP) at a time when most authors can barely afford to earn a living.

In the US, Dohle said 40% of the readership accounted for 85% of publishers’ revenue, so “heavy readers” switching to subscription models would have a “huge impact” on the industry.

He explained that the industry’s existing publishing model, successful for over 500 years, was “robust” and “not broken at all”, and argued that subscription models were “not in the reader’s mindset”. If they became popular, they would ultimately lead to “lower prices” and “a huge devaluation of IP”, Dohle said.

“A la carte is not broken […] I don’t see us supporting subscription models, because we just don’t need it,” he said. “Somehow we have to protect the measure of our intellectual property. Take an e-book for $12, that’s entertainment for 15 to 30 hours. That’s a fair deal compared with a movie and other media formats. I think we have a very robust pricing model in the market and subscription would just change the whole dynamic.”

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says this is wrong on so many levels (several of which are discussed in the OP), but PG has to mention one because he’s heard it so many times before from European publishing executives.

The value of a product or service is determined by the customer, not the seller.

If the customer will pay $10 for a product, that’s the product’s value. If the seller prices a product at $15 because that’s the true value in the seller’s mind, but the customer is only willing to pay $10, the product’s value is still $10.

Perhaps it’s partially a consequence of minimum book pricing laws in some European countries where the publisher sets the retail price, but, unless a customer is forced to purchase an item at a specific price (hello, college textbooks), in a free market the customer determines the value.

If a price is too high, the customer will simply not buy a product. (PG will note that readers in countries with fixed-price book laws regularly utilize a variety of technical means to disguise their physical location so they can purchase books online at lower prices.)

The idea behind the “devaluing” argument is that customers can be easily manipulated by simply charging higher prices. PG believes this is an elite executive’s ignorant view of the proletariat’s “mindset” and the epitome of stupid short-term thinking. Heaven forfend that the serfs ever hear of a lower price for anything. Prices must always go up and never go down.

If a customer, even a “heavy reader”,  enjoys reading books, but books cost more than the customer is willing to pay, the customer will respond in any number of ways — borrowing, buying used, finding something else to do that is also enjoyable and costs less, etc., etc., etc. No consumer is obligated to remain a heavy reader.

Playster Subscription Service: A Review

25 March 2016

From The eBook Evangelist:

Playster is a multimedia subscription service owned by Playster Corporation. The corporation has offices in New York and the UK. The service offers a combination of books,  audiobooks,  movies, music and games and calls itself “the Netflix of everything.”

You can access content on up to six devices. There are no usage stipulations per se, although there is a clause in the TOS that states the service can “take any action that imposes or may impose (as determined by us in our sole discretion) an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our (or our third party providers’) infrastructure.” Theoretically, I suppose that could be used to stop someone who was using too much content, but there are no other explicit restrictions.

An Internet connection is required to use the service. It is a streaming service, not a download service. According to TOS, “Playster does use some data, and an Internet connection is required to access and consume our Content.”

. . . .

The service offers a bundled combination of books,  audiobooks,  movies, music and games for $24.95 month. Each of the services are available individually. Books and music subscriptions are $9.95 each monthly. Game subscriptions are $4.95 per month and movies are $3.95. There is a 30 day free trial before you are actually billed for your subscription and a credit card is required at the time of sign up.

. . . .

There were a quite a few titles in the preview section that I was unable to find once I had signed up. I don’t know if this is a geo-blocking issue. I have read a lot of complaints about Playster not having content they advertised as having as part of the service.

. . . .

There’s a fairly wide variety of books in numerous genres and categories: New York Times Bestsellers, romance, literary fiction, non-fiction, business books,  young adult and more. The books are a mixture of both newer and older material. The age of the titles varies with some newer (What the Dog Knows is from 2015), and some a couple of years old (American Sniper, 2012, Veronica Roth’s Four the Transfer,2013  and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, 2013). There are also classics like 12 Years a Slave and Huckleberry Finn.

Currently, Playster has announced licensing deals with Findaway, Harlequin, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins.

None of the subscription services have The Girl on a Train, so I was not surprised to see that ebook missing, although they do have it in audiobook form. I did not see The Hunger Games or Harry Potter as ebooks either.

The sheer numbers of certain kinds of books was interesting. There are lots of books by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps), plenty of Star War tie-ins and more Star Trek tie-in books than I have ever seen in one place in my life…. In fact, the science fiction collection was pretty amazing. There were collections of old SF magazines like Amazing Stories, Astounding, Weird Tales, Galaxy, IF – the list goes on and on. There were Best of Year anthologies from the 1970s that I would have loved to read.

Link to the rest at The eBook Evangelist and thanks to M for the tip.

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.

Blloon subscription service on brink of closure

31 October 2015

From The Bookseller:

Another e-book subscription service is teetering on the brink of collapse after finding the business model unsustainable.

Blloon, developed by the founders of e-reader Txtr, has stopped taking on new users and will make a decision as to whether to close for good today, its c.e.o Thomas Leliveld has told The Bookseller.

It follows the news from Oyster in the US last month that its service was to close in 2016, despite raising $17m in funding from Highland Capital Partners earlier in the year.

Blloon launched in October last year offering a raft of titles from notable independent publishers such as Bloomsbury, Profile, Faber Factory, Guardian Books, Allen & Unwin, Lonely Planet and more and had plans to roll out to the US and Germany, where its founders are based, after its UK launch.

. . . .

“The service can only continue if the three parties, the users, publishers and service providers are all happy, and the users wanted more books, from companies like Penguin Random House, in our service. A lot of publishers have an issue with the unlimited model, for good or bad reasons. I was just about to hit the button of some more investment but I couldn’t see this building in the mid to long term into a financially healthy business. Then Oyster shut down and these guys had significantly more investment that I did and I said ‘if they are having trouble, this is going to be a problem’.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says one of the challenges tech startups face when trying to innovate in the book business is having to deal with publishers who are constitutionally anti-innovation.

The major reason Amazon has been able to make ebook lending and subscription work is that it partners with indie authors who aren’t afraid to join it in experiments and innovation.

Bonnier is Working on its Own eBook Subscription Service

8 October 2015

From The Digital Reader:

With Oyster walking away and Scribd scaling back, it would be easy to assume that the future of streaming ebook services is Kindle Unlimited, but Bonnier would disagree.

This publishing conglomerate has just started developing a subscription ebook and audiobook service in its native Sweden.

Bookbeat is not yet open to the public and is in fact still recruiting staff, so there’s not much to say at this time, but I can report that the website is describing it as a flat rate service like Scribd or KU which will let users read as much as they want. The site is promising audiobooks and ebooks, including both backlist and the latest titles.

. . . .

When it does go live, Bookbeat will be competing with Bookmate (out of Russia), Mofibo (out of Denmark), and Fabula (out of Latvia). Two of the three already offer service in Sweden. That would give them the advantage – if not for the fact that Bonnier is backing Bookbeat as a “strategic investment”.

This is one of the major publishers in Sweden, and it will be making its titles available to Bookbeat. That will give the service an advantage.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Jan for the tip.

What Oyster going down demonstrates is not mostly about the viability of ebook subscriptions

24 September 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The news that the general ebook subscription offering Oyster is throwing in the towel was not really a surprise. The business model they were forced to adopt for the biggest publishers — paying full price for each use of a book with a threshold trigger at considerably less than a complete read while, at the same time, offering consumers a monthly subscription price that barely covered the sale of one book, let alone two — was inevitably unprofitable. Their only hope was that they’d build a large enough audience fast enough that publishers would become in some way dependent on it (if not the revenue it produced) and agree to different terms.

It would be a mistake to interpret Oyster’s demise as clear evidence that “subscriptions for ebooks don’t work”. Obviously, they can. Safari has been a successful and profitable business for nearly two decades. The Spain-based 24Symbols has been operating an ebook subscription business, mostly outside the US and mostly not in English, for too many years to be running exclusively on spec VC money. Scribd has very publicly (and a bit clumsily, in my opinion) adjusted their subscription business model to accommodate what were unprofitable segments in romance ebooks and audiobooks, but the inference would be that for other segments the business model is working just fine. And then there’s Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, which is sui generis because they control so many of the parts, including deciding more or less unilaterally how much they’ll pay for much of the content.

What seemed obvious to many of us from the beginning, though, was that a stand-alone subscription offer for general trade books could not possibly work in the current commercial environment. The Big Five publishers control the lion’s share of the commercial books that any general service would need. All of those publishers operate on “agency” terms, which makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a subscription service to pull those books in unless the publisher allows it. The terms that the publishers would participate in the subscriptions required, which were, apparently, full payment for the book after a token amount was “read” by a subscriber, combined with a limited number of titles offered (no frontlist), made the subscription offer inherently unprofitable.

The publishers see the general subscription offers as risky business for books that are currently selling well a la carte. Not only would they threaten those sales, they threaten to convert readers from a la carte buying to going through the subscription service. To publishers, this just looked like another potential Amazon: an intermediary that would control reader eyeballs and have increasing clout to rewrite the terms of sale.

. . . .

So the failure of Oyster is actually another demonstration of a “new” reality about book publishing, except it is not so new. Book publishing — and book retailing — are no longer stand-alone businesses. Publishing and bookselling are functions, and they can be quite complementary to other businesses. And as adjuncts to other businesses, they don’t actually have to be profitable to be valuable. What that means is that entities trying to make them profitable — or, worse, requiringthem to be profitable to survive — are at a stark competitive disadvantage.

. . . .

The story on Oyster, still incomplete as of now, is that a lot of their management team is on its way to Google, which, in effect, “bought” the company to get them. Google seems to be trying hard to make sure we don’t think they bought Oyster’s business, they just bought Oyster’s staff. Obviously, Google fits the description of a company with many other interests in which books can play a part. In the beginning, that was all about search. Now it is also about the Android ecosystem and media sales in general. An ebook subscription business, or even a content subscription business, could make sense in Google’s world. But it would be a relatively small play for them. My hunch, and it is only a hunch, is that they have something other than a mere “book subscription service” in mind for that Oyster staff to work on. Smarter observers than I seem to believe that the personnel Google recruited give them knowledge about Oyster’s mobile reading and discovery technology. Of course, that’s core information for Google.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Toby for the tip.

Oyster is shutting down its ebook-subscription service

22 September 2015

From TeleRead:

Oyster, the ebook-subscription service, is shutting down.

. . . .

Oyster began in 2013 amid to influx of the subscription-based model for ebooks. Oyster was one of the bigger entities along worth Scribd that were at the beginning of the service model.

It seems as though the subscription model never really took off despite what seemed to backing from some major publishers. Harper Collin, Simon & Schuster joined Oyster and the site included titles such as Harry Potter in its catalog. Oyster offered access to over one million books for $9.95 a month.

Link to the rest at TeleRead and thanks to Jackie and several others for the tip.

The State of the Publishing Industry in 5 Charts

15 September 2015

Purely by coincidence this was published the same day as the Authors Earnings report. Randall will leave it up to the gang here to come to their own conclusions.

From Jane Friedman




Source: Foner Books put together this visual based on Amazon KDP Select payments to indie authors for book borrows before and after the debut of Kindle Unlimited, the all-you-can-eat ebook subscription service offered by Amazon.

Takeaway: The last year has hinted that the ebook subscription model is experiencing some strain. This graph shows how Amazon payouts dropped in conjunction with the rollout of Kindle Unlimited, which obviously forced Amazon to change their payments to a pages-read model over summer 2015.


More than a few people are asking how long ebook subscription models can pay a full royalty—since greater success in engaging users/subscribers means costs can outpace revenue.


Current wisdom is that people are moving to tablets/phones for reading, and that’s where ebooks will be primarily read. People inclined to use e-readers already have one, and the technology isn’t advancing in such a way that people are compelled to buy a new e-reader like they are a new phone or tablet.




Amazon Kindle Unlimited, Read-All-You-Can Service, Launched In India At $3 A Month

2 September 2015

From International Business Times:

Search for the keywords “Kindle Unlimited” on Amazon.com Inc.’s India website, and you get some 11,400 results for just books that tell you how to get the most out of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Most of these guides cost nothing and the occasional one costs about a dollar. For the truly enthusiastic ones in India, these might now prove useful, as the U.S. online behemoth has brought the read-all-you-can subscription service to India, with an initial 1 million e-books.

. . . .

As an introductory offer, users get to subscribe to the service at 99 rupees (about $1.5) for their first month, provided they sign up before Sept. 30, reverting to the 199 rupee-plan for subsequent months, Amazon said in a press release on Wednesday. There are also, of course, discounts for those willing to plonk down larger sums for six-month or one-year subscriptions.

However, not everyone is impressed, especially those interested in quality reads. For instance, none of the books on the New York Times bestseller top-five fiction list for the week of Sept. 6 are available on the unlimited service.

. . . .

More popular “time-pass” reads, as Indians like to say, however, are available aplenty.

Link to the rest at International Business Times and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

Change Keeps Happening

27 August 2015

From Hugh Howey:

The revolution in the publishing industry has barely begun. That’s the takeaway this week, as a print-on-demand book becomes a #1 bestseller and the Big 5 move into Kindle Unlimited.

First, the children’s book that should be waking up major publishers in a major way. It’s called The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, and it was written and self-published by Carl-Johan Ehrlin. If you have kids, you should stop reading this and shoot over to Amazon right now to buy a copy. Using the psychology of suggestion and sleep-inducing language patterns, parents all over the world are discovering the book’s seemingly magical ability to zonk their kids out. No wonder the book has taken off.

It’s been a #1 overall bestseller on Amazon and B&N. And Publishers Weekly is now reporting on this story as the book has been snatched up in a 7-figure deal. The New York Times even had to change the rules of their children’s book bestseller list to exclude paperbacks, in order to make sure an indie book doesn’t do this again. So what exactly happened? Why is the publishing world freaking out over this? Well, it’s because this was thought impossible just a few weeks ago. But the nature of digital disruption is that the impossible becomes possible seemingly overnight.

When I toured the CreateSpace printing facility in 2011, I knew something crazy was happening. It wasn’t just the print process, which had been around a while. It was the way this printing facility was integrated into the Amazon retail machine, and the way CreateSpace maintained the startup vibe, able to pivot on a dime. Things were changing at the facility every day, even as freshly printed books zipped by on steel rollers. The paper stock was improving; the trim size options expanding; matte covers were being introduced; the ink used for the covers was improving; and even the way the books were packaged and handled was being tweaked. In the year it might take for a Big 5 print book to get to market, the POD industry will have revolutionized a dozen important techniques.

. . . .

The major publishers and the New York Times do not like this one bit. The Big 5 have shunned POD as a backup solution, refusing to give Amazon and Ingram PDFs so that these two companies can handle supply when that supply is outstripped by demand. This has been shameful when books attempt to go viral but can’t because of how slowly the Big 5 print and ship their wares.

. . . .

Make no mistake: Carl-Johan’s breakout success is a game-changer. Because the “digital” in digital disruption isn’t relegated to ebooks. When PDF files can be emailed, and books can be printed in minutes anywhere and then sold instantly everywhere, and then shipped same-day most places, the old chain of print-in-China and sell-in-B&N has been radically upturned. Not only is the publishing revolution moving into the print space, the indie revolution has as well. When we see authors, agents, and publishers warning writers of all the money they are leaving on the table by ignoring print, they are clinging to what they thought was their last redoubt. No longer.

. . . .

Speaking of the Big 5 selling stuff through Amazon, look who’s playing around in Kindle Unlimited right now. I love me some Vince Flynn. Imagine my surprise this shows up while I’m browsing KU. My first thought was that his estate must’ve gotten the rights back and self-pubbed the ebook edition, because the Big 5 do not participate in Kindle Unlimited. Guess they do now.

Link to the rest at The Wayfinder

Here’s a link to Hugh Howey’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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