By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Safari Books Online, which allows users to stream e-books for a subscription fee (think Netflix for e-books), has been using the model for ten years. But the sudden and recent rise of e-book subscription models isn’t so much a vindication for the company as a welcome party.
“I’m only surprised it hasn’t happened sooner,” said Andrew Savikas, CEO of Safari. “We’ve seen it happen for other forms of media – movies, TV and music – I just don’t see any reason why it won’t happen for books as well.”
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.
The closest thing to date is the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where Amazon Prime subscribers who also own a Kindle have access to borrow one e-book a month.
“It’s clear that Amazon sees potential in alternative access models,” said Savikas. “To what extent they take that further, I can’t say.”
A service that allows users to read all they can for one fee is “inevitable,” said Savikas.
There are several significant hurdles in the way, however. Agents and authors may not necessarily support a model that takes in revenue on a the strength of a collection rather than a title. And very few publishers own the worldwide digital rights for their books, making it hard to sign off on adding a title to a collection without additional permissions being granted.
A company that wanted to build such a service would have to stitch together rights for e-books from various parties, title by title, or limit use in some way, which customers won’t like, said Savikas.
According to Savikas, there are companies working on this model today, however.
Because the technical hurdles would be very simple to overcome, one of the major e-book retailers could easily implement the model, said Savikas. It would just be a matter of securing rights.
There are also start-ups working on the model. Spanish start-up 24 Symbols is building a subscription service for e-books; most of its catalog is in Spanish, but it is adding English titles.
There is another start-up that Savikas could not name, possibly due to non-disclosure agreements, that intends to be the “Pandora of books.”
“There is going to be a lot of activity in this space,” he said.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield