Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Industry Topics: E-Book Subscription Services

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 So one topic that's hot right now is the issue of creating subscription services for ebooks, similar to what Netflix is for films. Many people think it ought to work the same way (pay a flat monthly fee and have access to hundreds of thousands of books every month) but so far none of the subscription services have been successful.

And why is that? Well, there are a few reasons behind it:

1. The transition to digital film and music has happened faster than the transition to ebooks. While ebooks are making up a huge percentage of book sales these days, that generally comes from voracious readers who buy exponentially more titles than the average person anyway. Not all average people have switched over to ebooks, while pretty much everyone in first world countries have switched to digital entertainment where film/TV and music are concerned. As more people convert to ebooks, this issue will become more prevalent, but we're not quite there yet.

2. Books are consumed more slowly than film or music. That's just the nature of the thing. People can watch a 2-hour movie every night if they want, and more on weekends or days off. They can listen to dozens of songs every day. But few people read a book in less than a week. So it doesn't seem as good a deal to them to pay, say $15/month to read four books, versus $15/month to watch twenty or thirty films. Or listen to hundreds of songs. While the basic subscription model for books will be similar to other media, it definitely won't be exactly the same. Concessions will have to be made for readers to find the subscription deal worthwhile.

3. Traditional and Self-Publishing still hasn't entirely meshed yet. Few traditional publishing houses have yet made their titles available to subscription services. Trad publishing houses are still trying to get $10+ for their ebook titles and don't like the idea of both them and their authors receiving less than the list price by making them available to subscription services. Indie authors are much more amenable to it, so their works are receiving a great deal of exposure this way. But many people buy a subscription service and find that titles they've heard a lot about in the media aren't available through that service. In terms of customer service, it's a disaster. People unsubscribe. So until traditional publishing can find ways to make mesh with subscription services, many less-voracious readers will be opposed to subscription services.

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How will this affect authors?

As I mentioned above, indie authors are much more amenable to submitting their work to subscription services and receiving less than full price per read. That's because it gets their work into more hands, which can create fans, and they're still making some money on it. Most of us know that traditional publishers are falling behind the times when it comes to ebook production and pricing. So for right now, I would advocate such services for up and coming authors, so long as they aren't accompanied by contracts that are too limiting. Of course this is a personal choice for each author. But eventually, it will be like anything else. We'll submit our work to subscription services and receive money based on how many reads or downloads we get. And just like Netflix, that may end up being the greatest exposure for our books.

As with all aspects of the changing publishing industry and new technologies, it's nothing to be afraid of. Successful authors roll with the changes and find ways to come out on top.

My thoughts for the future of Subscription:

Myself, I think they need to play with models closer to audible or Amazon's Unlimited program. Pay by page or by title. $5/month for 5 books, $10/mo for 20 books, etc. And there are some companies playing with different models and trying to figure it out. But so far, none have managed to turn much of a profit. 

So is the subscription model for ebooks doomed? 

Of course not. It's a problem that just hasn't been figured out yet. The publishing industry of the future, the further saturation of ebooks, and the demands of customers are factors that will eventually solve this problem. I'm sure Amazon is on it as we speak. For us authors, we just have to sit back and see how it all pans out.

What's your take on ebook subscription services? Do you think they'll start to work anytime soon?


  1. I think a tier service would be better. Some people can read a dozen books a month, some only a few. I think point number two is a big sticking point because of the time it takes to read a book compared to other things like watching movies. (Believe me, I get my money's worth out of NetFlix every month!)

    1. Yeah, I agree, Alex. Figuring out the answer to #2 is going to be the key to making it all work. I'm sure someone will do it eventually. Just a matter of time now. (And yes, I definitely get my money's worth out of Netflix as well. ;D)

  2. I had not put a lot of thought into this before, really, but I do like what you have written. Generally, I go through more than one book a week, but then, I'm making up for lost time when I read for school and kids and not for me! ;)

    1. Thank you, LuAnn! Yeah everyone's different, and I think that's why this hasn't been successful yet. But it's working well for other mediums, so it's the next logical step in the book world. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. :D

  3. Interesting topic. You've listed some great points. It seems like one way to make it work would be to have subscribers pay per book — maybe pay a set fee for the subscription and then another small fee per book, sort of like pay per view movies. As you said, some people read fast, and some read slow, so any kind of time limit wouldn't work very well. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.