What is an ebook Subscription Service?
A subscriber to Oyster or Scribd is allowed to read, for free, as many ebooks as they like from the selection of ebooks on each site. Oyster claims to have over 100,000 ebooks, and Smashwords is giving them access to 200,000 more. Scribd claims to have 40 million books and documents on its site, but how many are ebook novels of any quality? Harper Collins is the only major publisher to have signed up to the services.
Mark Coker from Smashwords has written two blog posts (one and two on why he thinks subscription services are going to change publishing for the better. As a distributor, signing up to the subscription services means he should distribute more ebooks, so he would think they are great. But are the subscription services good for the reader and especially the author?
Will Subscription Services Pay Authors?
Authors will be paid, but it is not clear how much. Harper Collins CEO said “if the whole business went this way, we and our authors would be very pleased.” According to a blog post by Porter Anderson, Oyster will pay a Smashwords author 60% of the Smashwords list price after a subscriber has read 10% of their ebook. That sounds reasonable.
It’s Like Joining A Gym.
A subscription to Scribd is $8.99, to Oyster $9.99 US a month. Scribd and Oyster have adopted the gym business model: they will be hoping that a lot of people subscribe, and then don’t read much. If the only people who subscribe are gym junkies and read a lot of ebooks, the services will be paying out more to authors and publishers than they make. So Oyster and Scribd will be hoping a lot of people join and then, after an initial burst of activity, don’t read much.
For the service to be of value for a customer, they would have to read at least a couple of ebooks a month. I have only read three ebooks this year, and one last year. I read about half a dozen when I purchased my Kindle in 2011. I still like paper books. I would be the perfect customer for Oyster and Scribd, but obviously I wouldn’t get anything like value for money so I won’t be subscribing. The subscription model relies on people reading nearly all their books digitally.
Because subscribers can read as many books as they like, Mark Coker from Smashwords reckons they will read more. Maybe some will, but I reckon one of the major reasons people won’t read more is lack of time. I have hundreds of unread books in my house, so cheap access to books is not the problem, time and tiredness is.
Mark Corker also reckons that as no retail price of an ebook is shown on the subscription services, readers might be more likely to choose books based on things like the cover and recommendations from other readers, which, according to him, should result in them choosing more books from independent publishers and Smashwords.
Recommendations do have some effect on me, but I hardly notice the cover of an ebook. I also think that most people are aware of the retail prices of particular authors, so in an attempt to get value for money out of their subscription, they might be more inclined to select ebooks from well-known authors that they know cost more. I know I would.
It will be interesting to see if these new services are a game-changer, in which case Amazon will either take them over or set up its own version, or they are sent out of business by free services.