The rise of ebook subscriptions: Would you “Netflix” your books?

In the 19th century, many books were published in installments. Charles Dickens published several of his novels in the newspapers. Other authors took a similar approach including George Elliot, Thomas Hardy and Robert Louis Stevenson. That model is coming back in a new form with the ebook subscription model.

As Netflix has shown, there are major profits to be made in selling digital content subscriptions as a reseller. In the books category, Scribd and Amazon are notable players. The subscription business model offers benefits for readers who want to read more books at a low cost.

Compare ebook subscriptions to buying traditional books and the value to readers becomes clear:

  • Scribd Membership: $8.99 per month gets you 3 books, 1 audiobook — plus unlimited access to sheet music, documents, and special select titles each month
  • Amazon Kindle Unlimited (Canadian Version): $9.99 per month gets you over 1 million titles and over 20,000 books in French
  • Price of a new hardcover book at a bookstore: $20 – $30

The state of book selling and ebook subscribing was explored at the 2016 Book Summit in Toronto. In the music industry, digital sales have become dominant with physical media sales declining over the past few years. In contrast, recent data suggests that digital book sales have yet to exceed 30 per cent of total books sold (though Amazon has noted that Kindle book sales are rapidly growing).

“Since the dissolution of Oyster, I see Scribd as the most powerful ebook subscription platform. They have remained well ahead of the curve and have been keeping pace with changes in consumer reading trends, making significant changes to their key product offering along the way. 24symbols, Playster and Jellybooks are also interesting services and of course, there’s Kindle Unlimited catering to the mass market. It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple offers an iBooks subscription program, similar to the way they have entered the subscription space with Apple Music,” explained Julie Blake, founder of 1000 bpm, who served as a panelist at the Book Summit.

What’s popular with digital book subscriptions?

Certain book categories are more popular than others when it comes to ebook subscriptions.

“Subscription services seem to be performing especially well for mass market fiction (e.g. romance, sci-fi) and are perhaps less well suited to literary content,” explains Blake.

“Based on Scribd’s revisions to its subscription model, my understanding is it’s all about romance and erotica, with some fantasy. Based on Coach House’s revenue from  subscription ebook platforms, it’s not poetry or literary fiction, though we are in touch with Scribd about ways to better highlight independent literature alongside content from the larger houses,” explains Heidi Waechtler, Managing Editor at Coach House Books, a leading Canadian publisher. Waechtler also noted that Coach House Books does not participate in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.

Does an ebook subscription change your reading habits?

When readers have the option to read more books for a set monthly fee, does that translate into resurgence in reading? That’s true for some readers.

“In the past month I have read 4 books using Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service. The ease of downloading and finding new books included in the unlimited service is appealing. I have read books that I typically wouldn’t download because they received good ratings and there was no additional cost to try them out,” explains Cameron Hayes, public relations director at Shea Communications in New York City.

“I read more books as a result of subscribing to Scribd and Amazon Unlimited. It’s easier for me to carry my iPad and have several books at my disposal plus read on the go as opposed to carrying one bulky book around. I still buy print books in a specific genre but for everything else, especially if it is a business book, I rely on the eBook services,” explains Gee Nonterah, social media manager at in San Diego, California.

Public libraries offer digital books free of charge

Public libraries have become major players in the ebook arena. The Toronto Public Library has long offered access to digital books via Overdrive and Shelfari.

From my experience, there are two drawbacks to the library’s offerings: I have not found a good mobile experience (i.e. I cannot download a Toronto Public Library ebook for reading on my iPhone’s Kindle App – this is a known issue) and there is often a wait list for popular titles. That said, Canada’s libraries are active, innovative players in the digital reading arena.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Bruce Harpham
Bruce Harpham
Bruce Harpham writes about project management training at Project Management Hacks. His experience includes leading cost reduction and process improvement projects in the financial industry. Sponsors make or break IT project success. Learn how to build an effective project sponsor relationship with our new report. Go to Project Management Hacks to receive the latest articles.

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