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Will new e-book services change the way we read?

January 13, 2015

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Thousands are already following Mark Zuckerberg’s lead and pledging to read more in the new year. It might be a good idea for authors to resolve to write more as well, especially with the announcement that the online e-book subscription service Scribd raised an additional $22 million in funding to close out 2014.

Scribd, along with its competitors Oyster and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, offer access to e-books for a flat fee every month, similar to the “all-you-can-eat” model popularized by Netflix.

Publishers are taking to the new model, as are investors.  The Los Angeles Times reported that Scribd added content from more than 1,000 publishers in 2014, including from major U.S. publishers Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster.

Some authors, however, feel they haven’t be compensated enough, especially with Kindle Unlimited, and that the model undervalues their product, similar to issues raised by Taylor Swift over the streaming service Spotify in the music industry.

Of course, these services believe they can make a difference for both publishers and authors.

Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd, said in an interview with the Huffington Post: “The key to the subscription model is that it allows us to create a much better experience for discovering and reading books, which causes people to read in new ways, which ultimately allows us to return increased revenue and distribution to publishers and authors.”

Promotion has proven powerful as well, especially when attached to big names:

  • The End of Power by Moisés Naím quickly sold out on Amazon after Zuckerberg announced it would be the first read in his new book club. It is set for a new round of printing with a redesigned cover that will advertise it as a selection in the Zuckerberg book-club, Perseus Book Group CEO David Steinberger told The Wall Street Journal.
  • The long out of print book Business Adventures by John Brooks sold 126,752 e-books and 77,038 paperbacks from July to November after Bill Gates dubbed it the best business book he had ever read in an essay also printed by The Wall Street Journal.

But, discovery and promotion also continue to be major selling points for independent and lesser-known writers.

Kathryn Le Veque, an author who self-publishes her novels on Amazon, told the New York Times that she sold 6,000 books a month priced at $4 or more before the introduction of Kindle Unlimited.

After the introduction of the new service, however, she dropped her prices. “The result: She is moving three times as many books a month as she was before Kindle Unlimited. Her annualized revenue has gone up about 50 percent.”



Publishing outlook for 2015


  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

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