Quarterly launches PageHabit to give book lovers a peek into the writing process

14 June 2017

From TechCrunch:

Quarterly started in 2011 as a highbrow subscription box service, with boxes (delivered every three months, as its name suggests) curated by celebrities like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Pharrell Williams, and Gretchen Rubin. Now the company wants to take its brand philosophy further with a new literary subscription service called PageHabit. Every month, PageHabit’s subscribers will get a new hardcover release with annotations by its author and other book-related items.

Quarterly, which has sent boxes to more than 100,000 subscribers, recently acquired book subscription club BooklyBox to build PageHabit, and will first offer the service in six genres: literary fiction, young adult, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and mystery.

CEO James Hicks said Quarterly’s team realized over the past five years that celebrity-curated boxes are challenging to scale up because it is hard to continue adding new celebrities and managing relationships. After launching a literary-themed box about a year and a half ago, however, they saw that giving readers a behind-the-scenes peek into the writing process resonated with subscribers, so Quarterly decided to use that as a starting point for its next step.

To create an immersive experience, PageHabit asks authors to prepare a handwritten letter and about 20 to 30 annotations on Post-It notes, which it reproduces and sticks inside books for an immersive experience. Subscribers also get access to digital content, like streaming author interviews. A portion of the $29.99 monthly subscription fee will be donated to Books for Africa, which supports literacy programs and libraries in African countries.

Even though digital books were supposed to herald the demise of physical books, paper continues to hold a strong allure, with sales of physical books growing in the U.S. and the U.K. even as sales of e-readers and digital books fell dramatically last year. This is partly due to reader preference, but also because books have become a status symbol: a physical book or shelf packed with volumes is much more visually appealing than a Kindle.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

The Sound of Subscriptions Succeeding: Storytel Original Is Coming in Sweden

4 June 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

With the purchase of Denmark’s Mofibo, the Swedish ebook and audiobook subscription service Storytel has added at least 50,000 members to its base of approximately 220,000 subscribers.

Storytel CEO Jonas Tellander tells Publishing Perspectives that for now the only concrete plan for a change in Mofibo’s territory is a shutdown of its presence in The Netherlands. Mofibo had launched there only recently, having concentrated previously in Denmark and Sweden. Both services are to continue operations in Denmark and Sweden for now, Tellander tells us, so that the newly merged company can analyze its potential and make plans.

. . . .

A splash page at the Storytel site, however, may tip us off to a lot of ambition. The site asks visitors to “Choose your country” and offers 28 nations. Clicking on any one of six of those countries—Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Finland, and Poland—takes you to a Storytel site in the relevant language. The rest offer a chance to submit your email address for “when we get to your country.”

Tellander points out that before launching in a new country, there’s a lot of work required to establish a local presence and learn the local market, most importantly to secure a viable amount of content for a given nation’s subscribers.

. . . .

Storytel was originally an audiobook-only service. Mofibo, when it launched in 2013, offered ebooks on an all-you-can-read basis. Today, subscribers of both services can read ebooks and listen to audiobooks as they please.

. . . .

As Hull has been stressing in guest editorials and conference appearances for a couple of years now, subscription services for literature seem at this point to work better outside the United States market.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Why Are Subscriptions Outside the US Succeeding?

9 May 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

‘Without cannibalizing the traditional print industry’ I‘d like to bring the tired, usual subscription conversation to a new, constructive level,” says Nathan Hull.

“The debate around subscription isn’t answerable with a simple, binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The answer should concern ‘where’, ‘when’ ‘which business model’ – or maybe ‘which format’.”

. . . .

Hull, Chief Business Officer with Copenhagen-based subscription Mofibo, is moderating a panel titled “Why Subscription Works Outside the US Market” in Wednesday’s sessions of the International Digital Book Forum’s (IDPF) 2016 conference.

. . . .

“While the publishing world’s US subscription players (Oyster, Scribd, and Kindle Unlimited) remain everyone’s favourite punching bags — and as Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Tidal splinters the user experience in the music world — ebook subscription services across Europe such as Mofibo (Scandinavia), Nubico (Spain), Skoobe (Germany) have to navigate unnecessarily complicated waters, constantly justifying their own positions and dodging the looming tar brush that “subscriptions are bad news” — all because of the actions of others.”

. . . .

“While US services such as Oyster and Scribd seemingly die or struggle and Kindle Unlimited still looms spectre-like over the industries shoulder, European services are thriving. Whether it be Mofibo in Northern Europe, Legimi in Eastern Europe, 24 Symbols in Spain, Skoobe in Germany or the plethora of other examples from across the continent, the arguments in favour of ‘subscription model’ are manifold. Surely, judgements on international markets shouldn’t be made based on the ill-fortunes, perceived or genuine, of US services.

It seems that country-by-country — perhaps, with the exception of the UK — new, young retailers have been able to thrive in their individual nations and generate significant new income streams for authors without cannibalizing the traditional print industry. It would appear they have harnessed an appetite to read by finding new readers via technologies and partnerships in a manner in which the publishers haven’t managed.”

. . . .

“All this highlights to me,” Hull says, “is the lack of research and international knowledge that’s out there. Or it is laziness? Or naïveté? While the print publishing world is apparently in a positive financial state, I would argue strongly, that subscription models – if you look outside the US – are are generating a similarly positive position.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

It’s interesting to PG how often book industry analysis tries to ignore Amazon’s influence. This article focuses on everyone but Amazon’s ebook and audiobook subscription service (although KU is mentioned as looming “spectre-like over the industries [sic] shoulder.”

Amazon hasn’t, at least to PG’s knowledge, released the number of Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Every several months, an unwise impulse overcomes PG and he opens up Excel.

The impulse struck today and PG decided to take a shot at estimating how many KU subscribers Amazon had in March, 2016. This exercise begins with some hard data, then moves through a bunch of guesses to an unreliable conclusion.

  • We know (a) the per page payout for KU authors and (b) the total payout for March, 2016. PG copied and pasted those numbers into his spreadsheet.
  • From this, we can calculate the total number of KENPC (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count) pages read by KU subscribers.
  • To the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon has not released any information about the number of KENPC pages in an average Kindle ebook.
  • Online discussions about how KENPC pages correlate to printed pages in a trade paperback, mass market, etc., edition show a broad range of results. For some authors, a KENPC page is almost the same as a CreateSpace page. For others, a KENPC page is half as long as a CreateSpace page (so the ebook contains twice as many pages as the CreateSpace book).
  • PG picked an adjustment factor of .8 out of the blue. For purposes of this exercise, he assumed that a KENPC page would be equivalent to .8 of a page in CreateSpace book. The result of this adjustment is a printed-page equivalent number of pages.
  • PG assumed that the average KU ebook would be the equivalent length of a 300 page trade paperback (feel free to do your own calculation with different numbers).
  • Based on these assumptions, if a typical KU member read two books during March, 2016, Amazon would have 4,156,206 KU subscribers. If the average KU member read four books, the number would be 2,078,103 subscribers.
  • Note that this calculation is based solely on self-published books by indie authors included in KU (because Amazon announces the per page payout and the total payout number every month). Classics that are out of copyright and some traditionally-published books, e.g. Harry Potter, are also included in KU and the indie payout presumably doesn’t include these books.

Aside from the relatively high probability of PG screwing up his Excel spreadsheet, his guess about the number of KU subscribers is based on several other guesses, so don’t take this very seriously.

Per Page Payout – March 2016  $         0.00478 per Amazon
Total Payout  $   14,900,000 per Amazon
KENPC Pages Read 3,117,154,812 calculated
KENPC to Printed Page Adjustment 0.8 guess
Printed Page Equivalent 2,493,723,849 calculation/guess
300 Print Pages per book 8,312,413 Books read in March calculation/guess
Books Read Per KU Member in March 2 4,156,206 Subscribers calculation/guess
Books Read Per KU Member in March 4 2,078,103 Subscribers calculation/guess

Is the subscription model in trouble? Scribd dumps romance titles

30 June 2015

From author Bob Mayer:

Got this just now from Draft2Digital through which we have titles in Scribd:

As we all know, the concept of a subscription service for books is extremely new. There are several models on the market now for effectively monetizing subscriptions, and none of them exactly matches what we’re used to from traditional sales royalties. As the market experiments with different approaches, there are bound to be some missteps and false starts along the way. In fact, we should expect this business model to evolve even more in the near future.

Scribd took a significant risk putting in place a model that paid authors the same amount as a retail model for each book read by a subscriber. As we all know, romance readers tend to be incredibly avid readers. In trying to cater to this voracious readership while under this progressive payment model, Scribd has put itself in a difficult place. In a bid to better balance these operating expenses, Scribd is immediately slashing the volume of romance novels in its subscription service.

If you are receiving this email, then you are a Draft2Digital author who has published books in the romance genre to Scribd. This means that some or all of your romance novels are likely going to be delisted from their service today. (Books that are priced at free will not be removed.)

While a large number of romance novels will be removed from Scribd, it isn’t all of them. We aren’t privy to the exact guidelines Scribd is using to decide which romance novels will remain, and it’s our understanding that they remain in flux at Scribd. However, over the coming days, we will be working closely with Scribd to resolve the exact criteria and share them with you so that you’ll have the opportunity to restore all of your titles to the service.

Please Note: If you write in other genres, understand that those books will not be affected by this policy change.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and assure you that we are working with Scribd to explore alternative solutions to this challenging problem, always searching for new terms that could restore our full catalog to their service.

Believe me, this situation is just as difficult for Draft2Digital as it is for you. We also stand to lose a significant portion of our revenue due to this change. More importantly, we regret that we couldn’t give our authors more notice, but unfortunately we were informed quite late in Scribd’s decision-making process. It has been our highest priority throughout these discussions to preserve as many of your books in the service as possible, and we will continue to pursue that goal going forward.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

So. Make of it what you will. But to me it means a lot of steps in the wrong direction for subscription services. It means that if a certain genre gets too many borrows for the subscription price, yet the service has to pay authors, the system is breaking down. Something has to give. De-list titles. Already happening. Pay authors less? On the horizon.

Link to the rest at Write on the River and thanks to Jaye, Deren, Julia and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Bob Mayer’s books

PG says this is certainly upsetting, but it’s nothing compared to what happens to authors when their publisher goes bankrupt and both their royalties and their rights drop into a black hole.

Here are some thoughts from Mark Coker:

Scribd, the fast-growing ebook subscription service, today announced dramatic cuts to their catalog of romance and erotica titles.

Effective immediately, I estimate 80-90 percent of Smashwords romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including nearly all of our most popular romance titles. Books priced at free are safe and will remain in their catalog.

Based on what I’ve been able to glean, the lower the price and the higher the word count, the better the odds the book will remain. Few books priced $3.99 and above will remain. Scribd is not publicly revealing the formulas for what stays and what goes, probably because much of this is still in flux. They’re cutting all publishers and distributors with the same blunt knife.

It’s ugly. The problem for Scribd is that romance readers are heavy readers, and Scribd pays publishers retailer-level margins for the books.

. . . .

Bottom line, romance readers – readers we love dearly at Smashwords – are reading Scribd out of house and home. Scribd’s business model, as it’s set up now, simply can’t sustain the high readership of romance readers. They’re not facing the same problem with readers of other genres.

. . . .

While I understand Scribd’s need to stem the bloodletting, and I support their decision for this reason, I don’t think they found the right solution yet. I think a better solution – one which would strike the right balance between the needs of readers, authors, publishers and Scribd – is to introduce tiered subscription options that would allow moderate readers to enjoy the Scribd service at the $8.99 level, but then offer heavier readers another subscription tier – possibly priced at $14.99 or $19.99 or whatever – that wouldn’t break the bank to the detriment of all authors.

Link to the rest at Smashwords