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Publishing can be forgiven for its mixed response to the ebook-subscription issue.
Not only does the all-you-can-read construct for selling books run contrary to traditions in bookselling — and reading — but even some of our sister media disciplines, much deeper into their experience with subscriptions, are still trying to parse the effects of similar models.
Just today (7th April), Dena Levitz (pictured) in PBS MediaShift's "Cutting the Cord" series, looks at How Streaming and Binging Has Changed Our Relationship With TV. Excerpting a few of the "nine ways this shift is changing our relationship with TV":
- Netflix hired Harris Interactive to study what’s happening on its platform. Among the results, it was found that 61 percent admitted to binge-watching (tuning in to two or three episodes in one sitting) regularly. Most in the study considered the behavior positive, with 76 percent saying packing in multiple episodes was a welcome distraction and refuge from life, and 79 percent claiming that binging on shows makes them better...
- When a show is thrust to the public in one burst, there might be bigger fanfare immediately, but the social explosion dies out quickly.Amazon’s data supports this belief, which is why it’s refusing to take an all-at-once release approach...
- Slate, together with SurveyMonkey, examined TV viewing behavior last year. Quality, they discovered, matters. It’s not just Kevin Spacey’s cheeky asides to the camera as Frank Underwood, you might say, that lures in viewers but high-caliber cinematography or attention to details in the writing. A full 64 percent said high production value was the top reason to tune in and binge...
And, of course, as soon as we try to compare the world of books and ebooks to the fields of television, film, music, video games, we have to ask whether such reflections can really have any bearing on publishing? Usually the answer is...we just don't know. Look at those three points from Levitz' roundup. They prompt us to wonder whether in a time of ebook subscriptions, can we infer that:
- "Binge reading" might be on the rise?
- Or that releasing a major series of books to a subscription service at once could mean "bigger fanfare" but a fast-dying "social explosion"?
- Or that quality will be determined to matter in the minds of dedicated subscribers?
Again, the answer: We just don't know. We do know, as discussed in our #FutureChat walkup, Do you subscribe to subscriptions?, that a recent spate of commentary around the relatively new subject of ebook subscriptions has brought into sharper focus several viewpoints that might conflict with each other but seem to show some staying power in the debate. For instance, there was that balder-than-usual statement of how an ebook subscription model might be economically sustainable from Mofibo c.e.o. Morten Strunge in Lasse Winkler and Johanna Westlund's report for The Bookseller:
The key to success, Strunge says, is to get enough customers who read occasionally or very seldomly. All of Mofibo’s advertising is aimed towards this market...Strunge does not believe the target group he wants is the same group of people who buy most of their books in physical bookshops or online. He therefore believes that Mofibo, if successful, will increase the number of readers and reading generally. ”We will only make a profit if we manage to reach the ‘medium’ and ‘almost-never’ readers. And in that case, we will expand the market,” he maintains.
There was the bracing, honest rejection of the idea of subscription from Hachette's Tim Hely Hutchinson in his interview with my Bookseller colleague Philip Jones.
I don’t believe in subscription. I don’t see how it would do anything other than cannibalise the business we already have. I know other people take a different view. Within the limits of the law, I hope [HarperCollins UK c.e.o.] Charlie Redmayne will explain it to me, because I don’t get it.
And there was the cool, tantalizing rationale of Nathan Hull's promise of extraordinary reader-behavioural data — to be shared with data-starved publishers — that an outfit like Mofibo can deliver.
Our data is gathered from a continuously evolving reading environment where habits are formed. Not just purchase habits — but also frequency of reading, locations for reading, devices on which people read and much more. There’s layer upon layer of rich, contextual data that reveals an incredible amount about readers' behaviour. Just take the 1.2 million pages of books read every day on Mofibo, throw in the 600,000 minutes of audiobooks listened to daily and imagine the possibilities of that combined scale.
When we took all this to The FutureBook's digital publishing community in #FutureChat on Friday, the responses showed a lot of thought going into what ebook subscriptions may mean -- or not.
Well clearly in the old book world everyone stopped buying books and only got books from libraries or book clubs.... #futurechat— Tim @ Stoneham Press (@StonehamPress) April 3, 2015
Print libraries buy author's books, then author gets royalty plus PLR. With KU, etc, there is no initial royalty for author. #FutureChat— Alison Morton (@alison_morton) April 3, 2015
Though I am a library user, there is a reason I don't use any subscription services (and it ain't price). #futurechat— Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) April 3, 2015
The reason is the lousy selection: and that's the fault of exclusivity. #futurechat— Camille LaGuire (@camillelaguire) April 3, 2015
Sorry, trying to do 3 things at once & keep up with #FutureChat. One of the most interesting bits is how subscription changes writing.— Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas) April 3, 2015
The idea of "small libraries of highly focused content," intrigues me. Positive aspect of Oyster 4 me = unexpected depth #FutureChat— Andrew Wetzel (@CircleReader) April 3, 2015
Join The Bookseller's FutureBook digital community on Fridays for #FutureChat at 4 p.m. London (BST), 5 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 a.m. New York (ET), 10 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9 a.m. Denver (MT), 8 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5 a.m. Honolulu (HAST). Main image - Pixabay: Jay Mantri