More Upheaval For EBook Subscription Suppliers

Current Scribd model unsustainable; changes punish romance writers for popularity

Publishers Weekly, The Bookseller and the Weekly Book Newsletter have all reported that the ebook subscription service Scribd has cut its romance catalogue to drastically reduce the number of romance and erotica titles it carries.

In a letter to publishers, Scribd said that it needed to ‘adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service … We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.’

Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, the first publisher to comment on Scribd’s decision and strategy, said he anticipated that 80-90% of Smashwords romance titles will be dropped by Scribd. He said that Scribd is dropping most of their popular romance and erotica titles priced at $3.99 and above. He is of the opinion that the Scribd plan is to eliminate the longest and most popular titles, which are the most expensive to acquire, since the service pays publishers based on a ‘qualified read’.

‘Bottom line, romance readers are reading Scribd out of house and home. Scribd’s business model, as it is set up now, simply can’t sustain the high readership of romance readers. They’re not facing the same problem with readers of other genres,’ Coker said in a Smashwords blog post.

The cuts in romance titles will happen across the board and affect all romance publishers, traditional and indie alike. Romance titles offered for free will remain, particularly free first titles in a series.

Scribd did not explain their actions. However, Coker believes that romance readers, who are high volume consumers of books, are undermining the company’s profits. eBook subscription models, like health club membership models, are based on a presumption of moderate use. Romance readers buck that trend by borrowing more than the ‘average’ allowed in the business model.

Although Coker understands the need for Scribd to tinker with its model, he is critical of the title-elimination approach. He believes a tiered subscription model with different fee structures based on a subscriber’s reading habits would still allow Scribd to offer value to heavy volume readers, but ‘wouldn’t break the bank to the detriment of all authors.’ Coker anticipates that further changes will happen before eBook subscription companies will find a sustainable model.

The Scribd approach would seem in many ways to be the opposite approach to that taken by Kindle Unlimited. Amazon has changed its payment structure to authors in a move apparently designed to ensure that authors of longer works get a greater share of the combined author royalty pool. It remains to be seen which model, if either, will prosper to the benefit of both readers and authors.

Are any of our members signed up to Scribd, directly or through Smashwords? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the changes.

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