By Oon Yeoh
A growing trend among movie and music lovers in the US is to pay for unlimited access to their favourite shows and songs. There is no download involved. Subscribers just stream the content they want, onto any device they want – TV, laptop, tablet, smartphone.
Such services tap onto the growing subscription trend that is gaining in popularity. Netflix offers it for movies and Spotify for music. Both are enjoying great success with the streaming model. Could that same model be applied to publishing?
Scribd CEO Trip Adler certainly thinks so. “We’re really focused on books because we think this market is ripe for disruption,” he says. “Given the success of Netflix in video and Spotify in music, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a similar service in the book space – and it could be a really big business.”
Scribd has just launched a subscription-based book service with HarperCollins, one of the world’s largest publishers. For US$8.99 a month (RM29.55), members will have unlimited access to an Harper Collins’ catalogue of titles.
Scribd, with its 80 million users, began life as a platform for users to easily publish presentations, white papers and academic papers online. “We’re really moving beyond documents,” Adler says. “We see ourselves as the library of the future.”
Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of self-published e-books, has also hopped onto the streaming bandwagon and has a deal in place with Scribd. “They’re trying to do for e-books what Spotify does for music and Netflix does for films,” says Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, who also has a similar deal with Oyster, Scribd’s main competitor in this business.
Priced slightly higher than Scribd’s service, Oyster charges US$9.95 (RM32.70) a month. “We’re so much more than a bag of books and a search bar…we’re really all about building this all-in-one books experience. We treat books as the unique form of media they are,” says Oyster co-founder Willem Van Lancker.
The company touts its technological strengths. Leveraging on aggregated reading data Oyster helps readers discover hot new e-books because of this social data. “When you have that common library, it really changes sharing,” says Van Lancker. “That’s something that’s really unique to our product – if you look at Oyster, it’s built like a modern social network.”
Will streaming model work for e-books?
Will the unlimited access, streaming model work for e-books just as it’s done for videos and music?
There are pros and cons to this approach. It’s ideal for those who like to skim through a lot of books in a short amount of time (and thus do not want to pay the full price for all those books). However, if you’re the kind of who reads a book once every few months, the subscription service doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’d be better off paying for and downloading specific e-books that you wish to read.
It’s still early days for this kind of service and time will tell whether it can emulate Netflix and Spotify in offering a subscription service.
“Everyone is always looking for the magic silver bullet, the best way to sell books, but the answer is that consumer behaviour is as diverse as humanity is. People like to consume and discover books differently,” says Smashword’s Coker.
“The world I would like to see in the future is a world of many virtual bookstores, with many book consumption methods, and many successful companies that are dedicated to putting books in front of reader eyeballs. I think the world will be a better place if these subscription services can gain a foothold and survive and thrive.”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.