Subscription models work for niche publishers of romance fiction or professional content but probably won’t any time soon for general trade publishers offering a selection of books across many genres, says Mike Shatzkin (a DBW partner) in his latest post at the Shatzkin Files.
Why? The granularity of the book publishing industry — just how many titles are available and all the different kinds of people that want to consume them makes it extraordinarily difficult to assemble a comprehensive library while also conveying to the consumer the value of signing up when they can have any book they ever wanted delivered to their house or e-reader in almost no time at all and for relatively little cost.
Shatzkin cites Safari Books Online as a successful example of a niche subscription site that could work. He might find disagreement with his main premise in the CEO of Safari, Andrew Savikas (Safari CEO: Mass-Market E-Book Subscription Service for Consumers ‘Inevitable’):
What hasn’t yet happened is a mass-market, consumer-facing version of Safari – a place where an average reader can pay a one-time, annual fee and stream a large selection of books, from best-sellers to mid- and back-list titles, at will. Safari carries titles geared toward a professional audience, many of them for software engineers.
A service that allows users to read all they can for one fee is “inevitable,” said Savikas.
The closest thing available currently is the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL), which allows owners of Kindle devices who are also subscribers of Amazon Prime (the $80 per year Amazon service that gives users discounts on shipping and access to a multimedia library of free content) to borrow one e-book per month from a library of over 100,000.
It’s not quite Spotify, but it is both a mass-market, consumer-facing repository of books paid for on a subscription basis and an alternative access model that could point the way for future ventures.
Shatzkin ends his well-assembled blog post by suggesting there is a company out there who could pull the whole thing off:
I can see only one player that might be able to pull off a more general subscription offering in the near term. (You can guess who that is.) The “whys” of that will be the topic of a future post.
We won’t leave you guessing, dear readers. It’s Amazon. And perhaps the company already has done it with KOLL.