#FutureChat recap: A busy workout in the subscription debate

#FutureChat recap: A busy workout in the subscription debate

Join us each Friday when our #FutureChat with The Bookseller's FutureBook community focuses on a topic in publishing and the digital dynamic. We'll be live on Twitter at 4 p.m. London time, 11 a.m. New York time, 8 a.m. Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Berlin, 3 p.m. GMT. 
"There is much to unpack here." That line from The Bookseller's Philip Jones in his lead editorial Friday may have been the understatement of the week. Articles and essays, blog posts and comments continue to proliferate around the many issues in the digital book subscription debate, of course. One of the points made by Rachel Deahl at Publishers Weekly on Friday -- as our FutureBook community gathered to exchange ideas on the matter -- is indicative of some of the heat around the issue. Deahl notes that both Scribd and Oyster launched their offerings last year, but "it wasn’t until the July 18 launch of Kindle Unlimited (KU), Amazon’s e-book subscription service, that pundits and media outlets began parsing what these new business models mean for the future of books." One of those who joined us in #FutureChat Friday, Eric Hellman of Gluejar and Unglue.It, told Matt Enis of the US-based Library Journal's Digital Shift that libraries -- offering free ebook loans as they do to patrons -- might indeed be seen as competition to paid subscription services.:
It’s clear that Amazon sees ‘free’ as its competition in the ebook space. And yes, libraries occupy space in the ebook market that Amazon wants for itself.
And yet another speaker in Enis' article, Sarah Houghton, director of the San Rafael, California, public library told Enis:
From a library perspective, Kindle Unlimited seems unlikely to affect demand for library materials at all. Six hundred thousand titles is not a lot. Our library participates in Link+, a cooperative lending project that makes tens of millions of titles from libraries across California and Nevada available in print to our communities—at no charge to them.
Jane Litte at Dear Author has produced a helpful comparative look at the Oyster, Scribd and Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscriptions from the consumer's point of view, wryly noting that at the time of a 2011 consideration of the subject, "I was willing to pay $25 a month at the time! No so much now." And The Bookseller's lead report examined the new HarperCollins UK agreement with Scribd for 3,500 backlist titles on subscription. There, we see a sharp question in the authors' and agents' community as to whether a portion read of "around 10 percent" constitutes a sale or a sub-license. The difference? Money, of course. A sale pays a 25-percent royalty, a sub-license pays a 50-percent royalty. As in the surprise for many self-publishing authors who found themselves automatically enrolled in the KU programme, some speaking about the HarperCollins arrangement seemed surprised at an automatic opt-in factor. As agent Andrew Lownie told The Bookseller:
I welcome extra revenue streams for authors and exploring other platforms but it’s a shame that agents and authors aren’t being asked to agree terms, rather than automatically being opted in unless they refuse.
HarperCollins UK chief Charlie Redmayne, on the other hand, said he sees it this way:
It’s one of our jobs as a publisher to try and grow sales in different ways and through different channels. In the US it has proved to be a very effective channel. But if agents and authors don’t want to be part of it then they can opt out, or they can come and talk to me. We are not forcing anyone.
In the States, one of our regular #FutureChat participants, the self-publishing author Carol Buchanan in Montana,  in fact -- busy writing a fourth novel she says is going well -- wasn't aware that as a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select enrollee, she is automatically entered in Amazon's new KU subscription. Kentucky-based author Heather Sunseri brought up the exclusivity factor in the KU programme, which requires a writer choose KDP Select: Reedsy's Ricardo Fayet in London voiced very much the opinion expressed by Smashwords chief Mark Coker in his #PorterMeets interview with us: Mystery author Melinda Primrose counseled a watchful caution: David Neal of Colorado and New Zealand, voiced the opinion that digital book subscription services of the Oyster/Scribd/KU kind could be better for consumers than creative workers: Frequent #FutureChat presence Paris Max drew a distinction between objections to KU's exclusivity requirements and "shared-pool" payment plan for KDP Select authors but asserted that those are the things to work on, not an assumed question about subscriptions, themselves. Those, he said, are inevitable:
Ontario's Carla Douglas agreed with those anticipating dedicated genre readers to be the main subscribers in these services: Michigan writer Camille LaGuire, in fact, felt that the exclusivity requirement of the KU programme will actually work to intensify its genre-focus: UK independent author and bookseller (Libiro.com with Teague Fullick) Ben Galley wondered about the "B-movie effect" that Netflix has seemed to have in film, where subscription is seen by some as encouraging the production of inexpensive "straight-to-video" movies: From Maine's Joan Dempsey, the float-all-boats counter: Nominated for the Bailey Prize (when it was the Orange), author Dinah Lee Küng joined us from Geneva and voiced concern for the distinction the KU programme makes between self-publishing authors (who are paid from the KDP Select Global Fund) and traditionally published authors (who are paid per sale, as they are regularly, via their publishers). She also mentioned that she was finding her own usage of a Scribd subscription to be quite high: That comment from Fayet, of course, reflects the "gym membership" concern about subscription services that may be financially viable only if many members use them very little or not at all. And, said LaGuire: London's Caleb Woodbridge on the "gym membership" theory: For which, it seems, Küng holds little hope: London editor Dan Benton brought up Yael Goldstein Love and Jennifer 8. Lee's ReadRooster.com program that sends 15-minute reading chunks of selected books to smartphones on subscription: From Louisiana, Judy Christie mentioned subscription services as another way to sample books: UK author and gaming consultant Nicholas Lovell jumped in to question the value of subscription services that might limit authors' direct-to-consumer relationships for rather low royalty rates. At which point, Hellman had a point about the relationship (or not) of cinema tickets and Netflix: In a couple of instances, Wattpad came up as a possible subscription-related phenomenon: Sometimes, of course, in #FutureChat, this happens: A clarification from Hellman: New Delhi's Yawar Khan and LaGuire had a spirited conversation about serials and their history of being frequently successful in subscription settings. In a late comment, Hellman mentioned an interesting context in which to look at digital book subscriptions: While Lovell, in his concept of "superfans," confused some fellow chatters but made probably the most universal point of the day: We'll be back with another #FutureChat on 1 August and would love to have you join us.
Join us each Friday when our #FutureChat with The Bookseller's FutureBook community focuses on a topic in publishing and the digital dynamic. We'll be live on Twitter at 4 p.m. London time, 11 a.m. New York time, 8 a.m. Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Berlin, 3 p.m. GMT. Main image - Shutterstock: Minerva Studio