Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Have E-Book Subscription Services Shot Themselves in the Head?

There's been a lot of shouting over the recent change to the Kindle Unlimited ("KU") payment plan. On the heels of Amazon's announcement came the news late yesterday that Scribd has eliminated all romance books from their subscription service. Apparently, the only exception are free books.

Why? Because romance readers are some of the most voracious readers of books in all forms. I know folks who can go through a book or more a day.

Think about it. If a subscriber only pays $9.99 a month, and they read 30 books a month, how can Scribd possibly pay each author their full retail amount? Even if the reader only read books that are in Scribd at $0.99, that's still a $17.70 payout to the writer/publisher after Scribd's and the distributor's fees.

I have to wonder if Scribd has notified their subscribers yet because I haven't heard a hue and cry from the readers. The news first broke late yesterday afternoon from publisher Bob Mayer from Cool Gus Publishing who got the news from their distributor D2D and from Mark Coker of Smashwords, another e-book distributor.

So what does this all mean?

It depends on why you put your books into a subscription service like KU or Scribd to begin with. In my case, I haven't put anything into KU because it requires exclusivity with Amazon, and I'm the rare indie author in that I make far more through other channels than I do Amazon. As for Scribd, or its major direct competitor Oyster, I only entered my Bloodlines and Secret of Magick series into their programs. It was an effort to promote them since my erotica/romance books under Alter Ego were doing just fine on sales at the time.

In my opinion, and this is only my opinion, I don't think Scribd or Oyster can be viable in the long run without lowering payments to writers/publishers, which is exactly what Amazon has done to keep KU going. If a writer depends on only one retailer or one methodology, such as borrows, for their income, I think they will be screwed in the long run. As always, YMMV.

Edit to add: Here's Scribd's announcement. There's been a little grumbling on Twitter, but mainly from authors. Same on FB. It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the day goes.

Edit to add 2 11:15 pm EDT: Still more screaming from authors than readers about Scribd's changes on social media, but I did notice a handful of readers who are ticked about Scribd charging for free books. #Scribd


  1. I agree with your main conclusion, of course -- "If a writer depends on only one retailer or one methodology, such as borrows, for their income, I think they will be screwed in the long run" -- but I don't know that I agree with you about what Amazon did.

    I don't see the KU change as lowering payments per se. Sure, a lot of writers will get less, but depending on how they actually pay per-page, writers of novels, especially long ones, might end up getting more. To me it looks like an umbrella adjustment aimed at squashing the writers who were gaming the system. To bad for the honest short story writers, but the system was tilted way-unfair in their favor before anyway. They got to take advantage of it for the time it lasted. [shrug]

    I agree that one-price lending at a low rate isn't commercially viable, especially for readers like the romance crowd. But I don't know that Amazon cares much about that. Their strategy has always been to draw people to their site and build up a large base of eager, satisfied customers, even if it means losing money here and there. I see KU as another one of those loss leader things. If it weren't for the exclusivity requirement, which is deeply problematic, I'd think it was a great deal for writers.


    1. With all due respect, prior to the recent per page change in payments, KU per book borrow payment has gradually been reduced between the program's initiation in July of 2014 thru May of 2015.

      How the new per page payments will work out involves a lot of guessing that I won't even attempt. Personally, I think it'll make writers up their game instead of doing some of the half-assed work that I've seen. Upping game is not a bad thing, especially for the readers.

    2. I was just thinking of the change from per-read to per-page. We won't know until we see how the numbers actually work out, but folks writing novels and even novellas could end up doing significantly better than before.

      And I completely agree about this encouraging writers to up their games. [nod] Payment by pages read means you have to write a whole good book, not just a good first chapter, or a good first two pages of a short. Of course, we've seen people already talking about how to game the new system -- someone was enthusing about having cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, every scene, every page even. [eyeroll] I have a whole rant about how much I despise fake cliffhangers, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of those.

      The only way to make it in the long run is to write great books that readers want to read. Amazing how hard it is for some writers to get that through their heads. :P


    3. *facepalm* Okay, the nicer term I learned was having a "hook" at the end of the chapter to tempt the reader into wanting to continue. It's simply an unanswered question, that if you've done your job right as a writer, you've built enough suspense and goodwill the reader is enticed to turn the page to find out what happens next. I'm beginning to wonder if any of these people have studied fiction writing. Schemes and cons aren't the way to build a readership.

  2. A hook, or even a real cliffhanger, can work really well. But I remember back in the 80s, there were some romance writers who decided or were told that they should have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. They apparently couldn't come up with enough real cliffhangers, so they'd make up fake ones, splitting a scene in the middle, with an "Eeek! OMG!" sort of line, then you go on to the next chapter and find that it's nothing at all, and the scene moves on. You could remove the "Eek" bit without hurting the scene at all, and in fact the flow would be improved quite a bit. But by god they had their cliffhanger. [huge freaking eyeroll]

    I remember a discussion about this stuff on RomEx, back when, and I expressed how much this crap annoyed me. Several writers piled on to explain, with great indignation, that it was "to get the reader to turn the page." IMO if your story and characters can't get the character to turn the page, you're doing something radically wrong and scattering cliffhangers through your book -- even real ones, much less fake ones -- isn't going to save it.

    I think these folks, or their descendants, are popping back up out of the woodwork. :/


    1. The "rules" people. Yeah, I remember them well, but I also sit back and look at what they've written. *smh* I look at a different source, as in the writers who keep me up at night, turning pages. :D