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Digital Book World Interview: Scribd CEO Trip Adler on returning to an unlimited-reading business mo

The world of digital books is changing rapidly. Apple is preparing for another run, Walmart and Rakuten have partnered to offer the Kobo reading device in stores, Google just launched a new audiobook service to compete with Audible, and the ecosystem of companies offering services related to publishing or content creation continues to swell. Innovation is alive and well.

One of the more interesting companies located squarely at the center of publishing and technology is Scribd, which just today has announced that after two years, the company is returning to its original offering of unlimited reading for subscribers for a fixed price per month, a model which evokes the label of "Netflix for readers."

Digital Book World sat down with Scribd CEO Trip Adler and we asked him about the changes to the company's business model.

1) What is the price of a Scribd subscription? Does that remain unchanged, given this news?

A Scribd subscription is the same great price: $8.99 per month.

2) It's been roughly two years since Scribd originally did away with its unlimited plan and instituted its monthly credits system. What factors led to this reversal?

For some background, between 2013 to early 2016, a small group of our most voracious readers were reading many, many times their monthly membership fee. We compensate the majority of our publishers on a per-read basis, which means these payouts were unsustainable. In an effort to balance our payouts while affecting the smallest group of readers possible, we introduced a credit-based system in 2016.

An unintended side effect of this decision was that the credits introduced a transactional feeling to our service. Although we allowed for generous previews, a psychological barrier was introduced and we saw our readers less engaged. This is the opposite of what we were aiming to achieve.

In order to remove that barrier — and to empower our subscribers to take full advantage of all that Scribd has to offer — we’re bringing back the unlimited subscription.

3) Is this a permanent change? What indications do current subscribers, and potential subscribers who might return to Scribd, have that this is for good?

We’re committed to making this updated unlimited model work. We have been testing it behind the scenes since this summer, and we’re confident that it will be successful.

4) Was the past two years under the previous credits model a mistake? Or was it a necessary period of learning for the company about its customer base and its needs?

Our goal has always been to provide the best, most comprehensive reading subscription, hands down. This means providing a high quality catalog to our members at a fair price, while fairly compensating our publishing partners. This type of experience was our intention when we introduced the credit-based model. Because 97% of our subscribers typically did not hit the cap on any given month, we thought the experience would be largely unchanged for them. We didn’t foresee the psychological barrier a credit-based system would bring to their decision making.

We’ve paid attention to how the credit-based model has affected our customer base in terms of engagement and looked for the best way to improve our service so that we satisfy our customers’ needs. We’re dedicated to providing the best digital reading subscription service, and we feel the way to do this is with unlimited.

5) Scribd has one of the most interesting business models in the publishing industry. Describe the support Scribd has received from the traditional publishing industry, versus the support it has received from nontraditional publishing organizations and sources. Is Scribd getting the external partnership it needs to thrive?

Scribd has received considerable support from the publishing industry. We have relationships with publishers of all sizes, and we are the only reading subscription to offer content from all of the “Big Five” publishers.

Over the past year, we received support from top magazine and news publishers including Hearst, Time Inc., The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times. We now offer articles from more than 90 magazines and news sources.

6) Digital Book World has long represented the intersection of publishing and technology, and this year's revamped conference will do the best job of this to date. Give us one example of a company, other than Scribd itself, that Scribd views as a market leader or innovator within either publishing, or technology, or both, that is helping pave the way toward greater readership in our society.

It’s important to keep reading alive in the 21st century, and there are many companies that are making it easier for readers to discover the written word. Some interesting brands include Pocket, which lets individuals save articles for offline reading, and Blinkist, which offers summaries of great books and serves as a unique platform for book discovery. Coincidentally, all Scribd subscribers receive access to both of these services for free.

Scribd's press release about the change is here:

Introducing Scribd’s Unlimited Subscription

Unlimited books. Unlimited audiobooks. One great price.

We are thrilled to share that we’ve updated our subscription to give you access to an unlimited* number of books and audiobooks each and every month! You read that right, we’ve done away with credits for books and audiobooks without raising our price. As always, your subscription continues to bring you access to news, magazines, and documents, including articles from Bloomberg Businessweek, Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Men’s Health, New York Magazine, and more.

“Keeping reading alive and thriving in the 21rst century has always been one of our biggest goals, and that’s why we decided to make our subscription unlimited,” said Trip Adler, co-founder & CEO at Scribd. “This change makes us the most comprehensive and valuable reading subscription on the market. It gives us the unique opportunity to provide world-class content to our readers for one amazing price while also increasing our contributions to the publishing ecosystem. In short, we want our members to truly read without limits, and this change allows them to do just that.”

Scribd’s unlimited service is available everywhere on February 6, 2018, and includes access to an unlimited number of books and audiobooks, alongside unlimited access to news, magazines, documents, and sheet music. What are you waiting for? Start reading today.

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