The subscription content platform Scribd alerts its publishing partners that it’s dropping an undisclosed number of romance and erotica titles from its ebook catalog.
The news, shared late yesterday by Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, renews questions about the viability of the subscription model for ebooks at a time when Amazon has overhauled its compensation model on Kindle Unlimited, its own subscription platform.
Coker estimates that 80–90% of the romance and erotica ebooks Smashwords distributes on Scribd will be cut, “including nearly all of our most popular romance titles.”
The reason for Scribd’s decision is most likely an unsustainable level of payouts triggered by high-volume readers in the genre.
Writing on Scribd’s blog, CEO Trip Adler says, “We’ve grown to such a point that we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to grow in a sustainable way.”
In order to do that, Scribd will make at least two changes to its approach (in the romance category, at a minimum, if not yet in any others). “We’ll be tweaking our catalog on an ongoing basis,” Adler writes, “rotating titles in and out, so that romance readers always have something fresh to read.” In addition, he says, Scribd is “working hard to establish more mutually beneficial terms with our publishing partners, so that we can continue to grow our catalog.”
That latter announcement that prompts Publishers Lunch to reflect that the terms Scribd may have offered publishers in order to bring them on board was “too good to be true” indefinitely, “depending upon how you view it.”
Assessing the list of Smashwords titles Scribd has cut, Coker remarks that “the lower the price and the higher the word count, the better the odds the book will remain. Few books priced $3.99 and above will remain. Scribd is not publicly revealing the formulas for what stays and what goes, probably because much of this is still in flux. They’re cutting all publishers and distributors with the same blunt knife.”
Speaking to The Bookseller, a Scribd spokesperson confirms that it “is not singling out any specific publishers, small versus big, etc. We are working in an identical manner with all publishers that provide us with romance titles.”
Scribd raised $22 million in funding in January 2015. Just last week the company bought Librify, a social e-reading start-up, in a move that is likely to help Scribd add the sorts of features some have said the subscription model for ebooks can’t survive without on its own.
For some industry insiders, Scribd’s apparent difficulty sustaining its subscription-based model for romance ebooks is a vindication of long-held skepticism. For others, like Coker, it’s a more direct blow to business—or as he puts it, “It’s ugly.