The future of subsers? Scribd redesigns its plan

The future of subsers? Scribd redesigns its plan

Subscription services (what I call “subsers”) have transformed consumer music and video habits.

For many people, ownership is not the primary method of interacting with content (or other things, like cars). They pay for access, but don’t end up with a physical item (or even a downloaded file) that they own (and for which they are responsible).

It seemed inevitable to me that a similar model would rise for e-books.

People began to speculate about a “Netflix for books”.

Why not call it a Spotify, Rhapsody, or Pandora for books?

Even though they aren’t the same, the use model for books is more similar to the one for than it is for music. People tend to listen to the same songs (which, after all, typically run under five minutes) repeatedly, while I’m sure that the majority of the time, most people read a book once. Oh, some people re-read frequently, but I don’t think the majority use of books is re-reading. I think more people re-watch movies than re-read books, but I suspect it’s closer to the book number than the music number.

Oyster launched as a subser in September of 2013.

Scribd, which already existed as a documents service, launched a subser a month later in October of 2013.

In my

The Year Ahead: 2014

on December 31st, 2013, I predicted that Amazon would start their own in 2014. I even suggested a name…”Kindle Unlimited”. 🙂

It happened (with that name) on July 18th, 2014.

I’ve been a happy member of

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

since the beginning.

Amazon is notoriously tight-lipped about actual sales figures (subscriber numbers, in this case),

but this

The Digital Reader pose by Nate Hoffelder

indicates that KU quickly dominated the other services.

Google acquired Oyster, and the latter will shutdown as a subser in “early 2016”.


posted on February 12, 2016

that they will restructure their program on March 15 (the Ides of March…really? I’m sure that whole “beware the…” is irrelevant 😉 ) of this year.

Paid members will be able to get up to three books (or comic books) and one audiobook a month from the “Monthly Reads” selection. That will rollover, by the way…up to nine books.

Once you have the book, you can hold on to it for the life of your membership (provided that Scribd doesn’t have to remove it for some reason).

There will also be “Scribd Selects” titles available as before…without limit. However, they rotate every month…and you can only keep them for that month, plus two weeks after that (although they say you can contact them if you are close to finishing and want to keep it a bit longer).

Sheet music, and some other types of items, will not be limited.

This is a big change, but according to the post, it doesn’t affect a lot of people.

They apparently made the same miscalculation I did in the beginning of e-books.

As I mentioned recently on Len Edgerly’s The Kindle Chronicles


I thought the transition to e-books from p-books (paperbooks) would happen much more quickly than it has. That’s because I was thinking of it from the point of view of “serious readers” like myself and my circle…people who read many books in a year.

As the former manage of a brick and mortar bookstore, I should have remembered that most books are bought by people who don’t read that many books…casual readers. We read a lot more, but there are disproportionately fewer of us.

Scribd apparently underestimated the impact of those serious readers (they previously limited the number of romance books available as way to try to deal with that particularly voracious group), and realized that they were overproviding for the majority of subscribers.

For most people, three books a month is plenty.

I think it’s a reasonable move on their part.

What does it mean for the future of book subsers?

Well, it may certainly mean more people switching to KU…although some of the Scribd serious readers may be anti-Amazon, I don’t think it’s going to be all of them. 😉

I still think subsers are a big part of the future of e-books.

For us, it works well as one source of books to read…not our only source.

For families, it can be very effective. It can work well for families with one or two serious readers and other casual readers.

Now, we are likely to hear from people who are (not unreasonably) concerned that this concentrates power with Amazon…and some of those people will be authors who don’t like the terms.

Amazon will likely continue to innovate for KU customers, regardless of what happens with competitors…it’s what they do. 😉

I still think some sort of discount for Prime members is possible.

However, another intriguing possibility to me is that they do an “add on” model, similar to what they’ve recently done with their “Streaming Partners” program for video

Amazon unplugs cable…and recent e-book price drops

That, of course, assumes that is working for them, or that they think e-books are different enough if it doesn’t.

For example, they could do a Harlequin add-on for, oh, $2.99 a month (although that might be too low…unless it gets gifted a lot and then not used that much). It wouldn’t need to be all of their books, of course.

A company like HarperCollins might do something similar to Scribd’s monthly reads. For an extra…oh, $4.99 you can get up to three books in a month from a specific set of their frontlist (new and popular titles).

It might even work if it was just one book in a month for what would amount to half off (or more) on that book.

As I’ve said before, it could also be a great way for tradpubs (traditional publishers) to get new life out of their backlist.

Of course, as I pointed out last month, Amazon’s dependence on the Big 5 tradpubs appears to be decreasing.

None of the top 10 bestselling USA Kindle store books are from the Big 5

That could mean Amazon could get better terms.

Two other ways I could see this going.

One would be for Amazon to have a rotating group of maybe ten featured titles (that might or might not be an add on). That could be a way to get the tradpubs into it. They might be available only for a limited time….even a day, perhaps. Once you had it, you could read it. That could be attractive for publishers, Amazon, and readers.

The other thing is for tradpubs to do their own D2C (Direct to Customer) subsers…but that’s a lot of infrastructure for them to build. I don’t know how attractive that would be to people, honestly.

What do you think? Are you a Scribd premium subscriber? If so, does this change your plans for being with them? Is it a sign of weakness of subsers overall…or of the strength of KU? What part will subsers play in the future? I’ve heard from authors and their supporters about how they don’t like Amazon’s terms…do you have something to say about that? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Thanks to reader Marjorie for the first heads-up on this story!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

*When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

2 Responses to “The future of subsers? Scribd redesigns its plan”

  1. Tom Semple Says:

    It is worth noting that the ‘3+1 per month’ limit rolls over to a maximum of ‘9+3’ credits, so if you don’t use them all in a given month you don’t necessarily lose them. And anything you’ve borrowed once is something you can go back to and re-read or finish reading, i.e. it does not require a fresh credit. So it is different than Kindle Unlimited, and more like Audible subscriptions, except that I think you lose access if you stop subscribing.

    All this does is to give subscribers pause before they borrow from the ‘limited access’ list, they will only borrow with clear intention to read, not just to ‘taste’ to see if they like it. I don’t remember if they offer samples, but if not you could always use a different vendor to sample the book before borrowing on Scribd.

    The main issue about subscription services remains the fact that some publishers don’t participate or restrict subscriber access to a sub-set of what they publish.

    Audible is the only one that seems to have pretty much every audiobook that is professionally published. Safari Books Online has virtually all of the major technology publishers participating. But these are exceptions.

    I think there is room for a ‘premium’ ebook subscription service, priced upwards of $25-30/month, provided it had universal access to everything major publishers put out and had decent iOS, Android, and web apps. But it would be more of a niche market. $10-12 a month is where most people would draw the line.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      I mentioned the rollover of up to nine on the books/comic books, but not the three on the audiobooks…thanks!

      Yes, you lose access if you stop subscribing, that’s correct.

      With KU, you can keep the books and re-read them as often as you like (unless, like with Scribd, they become unavailable to borrow through the service). You can only have ten out at a time, though.

      My reading of this is that you can only have nine of the Monthly Reads books at a time:

      “If you don’t use all your reads up in one month, you’ll keep them going into the next month! You can accumulate up to 9 reads and 3 audiobooks at a time.”

      I’ll double check that.

      I think the $25 price point is high, as you suggest…even with a lot of content. It would depend partially on the licensing (how many people on the account could have the same title at the same time, especially). I could see having the add-ons that I suggested add up to more than $25 and some people would do that…it would feel different than a single price point of $25.

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