With all of the Big Five publishers now agreeing to ebook-lending terms with libraries, we are finally seeing stability on this point across the book industry. Additionally, we are also starting to see publishers setting up their own sales/access portals as well as working with vendors and other distribution channels.
This is the second article in a two-part report that aims to provide the information you need to catch up and keep up with this complex area of the information industry. (Click here for Part 1.)
Ebook Subscription Services Arise
YouTube brought video viewing to users anytime, anywhere just 10 years ago, and 2 years later Netflix began to offer streaming video. Given the market dynamics, it was only a matter of time before ebook subscription ventures would also arise. Oyster and Scribd launched their services in 2013. In July 2014, Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited with a 600,000-plus-title catalog heavy on classics, best-sellers, and books from authors who self-publish on Amazon. Each of these services offers unlimited access to its catalog for $9–$10 per month. There is no limit to the number of books you can read online or download for offline reading (without due dates)—unless you decide to cancel your subscription, when you can no longer access any saved titles.
This model is a bit pricey for all but the voracious reader, perhaps. Amazon’s service has attracted severe criticism from its own self-published authors who clearly see adding their titles to the Unlimited collection as bringing them far less revenue for their efforts than when titles are offered individually. Prolific indie romance author H.M. Ward notes, “I had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. That’s counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t complement each other, as expected. … This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn’t be paid lottery style. For this system to work we need a flat rate for borrows, borrowed or not borrowed (not this 10% crap), and it needs to be win win for the reader AND the writer. <-- That is the crux of the matter. I’d like to see Amazon create something new, something better instead of falling in step with Scribd and Oyster.” Amazon has a reputation for strong-arming publishers (which was recently apparent in its negotiation with Hachette Book Group). However, Amazon’s efforts to shortchange its own authors are creating significant frustration in its carefully cultivated indie author community.
Scribd is clearly a company to watch in 2015. On Jan. 5, 2015, it announced “that it has closed a $22 million financing led by Khosla Ventures with reinvestment from existing backers including Redpoint Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank. … This brings Scribd’s total funding to date up to $48M,” with a currently estimated 80 million customers—a number that has been increasing by an average of 31% each month.
“We had a fantastic 2014 at Scribd,” co-founder and CEO Trip Adler explained in the same announcement. “We launched audiobooks with 30,000 titles from publishers like Blackstone and Scholastic. We also doubled our e-Book titles, adding content from 1,000+ publishers—including Big 5 publishers HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster—along with industry leaders like Harlequin, Houghton Mifflin, Lonely Planet, Perseus and Wiley. This new funding round will enable us to work towards achieving our goal of creating the most comprehensive library of the future for our millions of users around the world.”
Is Print Dead? Or Are We Not Asking the Right Questions?
In September 2014, the British trade paper The Bookseller surveyed 16–24-year-olds and found that nearly 75% preferred print to ebooks or audiobooks. In December 2014, Nielsen reported on a survey of the reading habits of 13–17-year-olds, saying, “Despite teens’ tech-savvy reputation, this group continues to lag behind adults when it comes to reading e-books, even with the young adult genre’s digital growth relative to the total e-book market.”
In December 2014, scientists published research on the impact of e-reading on sleep, finding that “those that read from an e-reader [with an LED screen] such as an iPad or a Kindle [Fire] before going to bed, had a much more difficult time getting to sleep, and once they were slumbering, they spent less time in a crucial phase of the sleep process and were highly fatigued the following day.” Worse yet, disruption to circadian rhythms can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, obesity, and a wide variety of other serious health issues. Perhaps technology isn’t always best.
Scott Pack, a HarperCollins publisher, says, “I believe the reader of 2020 or 2030 will have two libraries, print and digital, with different types of books and publications in each. While I have no qualms about trying out a debut author on e-book or loading up some holiday reading on to my Kindle, when it comes to my favourite authors I have to own the print edition, and I remain a sucker for a beautifully designed and printed book.”