Publishers must make a decision over subscription services

Publishers must make a decision over subscription services

Last July 18th, Amazon officially announced the launch of its ebook subscription platform, Kindle Unlimited (KU). Amazon entering the subscription domain is a confirmation that 24symbols and the publishers that have trusted our platform since we started in 2011, were right: the consumption of online cultural and entertainment works and products is tightly related to flat rates. The ebook subscription as a business model in the ebook industry is no longer visionary stuff, and must sit at the center of every company's digital strategy. Safari paved the way for vertical subscription services, and after us, other companies like Skoobe in Germany, Bookmate in Russia, or Scribd and Oyster in the US have helped create a growing environment. That Amazon decided to enter the business is hardly a surprise for any of us.

Being the grandaddy of horizontal subscription services, we have had to deal with the challenges that this model implies from the very beginning: convincing hesitant publishers, managing the granularity of the international publishing ecosystem, solving complex legal aspects, ... we know far too well what they are. Being the first ones means we committed some mistakes at the beginning and face many issues and reluctance that seems now to be part of the deep past. And, nevertheless, the service kept growing. So, if on the one part we are perfectly aware of the difficulties, on the other end we want to emphasize the great potential of subscription. It is the next big thing for the publishing sector. That’s the reason why we cannot but welcome Kindle Unlimited, without underestimating the impact of a giant like Amazon when entering a business model that is still under consolidation.

OK, so the big giant has made a move. What is the scenario now? Are we doomed to repeat the same mistake again, giving one company an almost complete monopsony? It's up to the publishing industry. It's up to you.

24symbols has been active in many places around the world since our internationalization process started last year, which is taking us to more than 10 countries before the end of 2014 in Europe, America and Asia. This has given us the unique chance of listening and understanding the needs of the many important voices of the international publishing industry. And as such we evolved to offer them a respectful and attractive framework from which to start working together. Going from a few tens to more than a thousand publishers worldwide is a proof of it. But there are still many important stakeholders that have not taken a clear decisions, preferring to wait. The wait is over now.

These voices, especially in Europe, have to choose. The publishing industry has the opportunity of establishing a strong position so that there is no dominant player in this channel, as it unfortunately happens already in the pay-per-download channel. When KU lands in Europe (which is happening as you read this), there should be independent and consolidated European players that guarantee the freedom of the publishing industry, cooperating with publishers and aggregators under models and contracts that are respectful for everyone, and with high quality products for the end users and readers. This is a call to action for publishers, aggregators, agents and authors to make this happen.

We also ask those voices to think beyond what the current download models offer as key arguments for decision. According to the recently published BISG report on ebook subscription services, and also mentioned by publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin, Penguin Random House's executive Madeline McIntosh said that "Many people who are buying our books today are spending more than they would with a subscription.  If that amount starts to dip, then subscription services will become more interesting to us."

Thinking just in terms of individual sales or losses when comparing digital book downloads with subscription services misses the whole picture. What subscription services provide, beyond the ability to read one or many books, is a strong engagement with the reader at many different levels, which individual purchases cannot provide: constant quality titles, great recommendations, direct access to back catalog titles, a hub where book lovers can talk about their favorite titles, and where users can become digital librarians by using the service's social capabilities; everything with a feeling of belonging - for finance and business guys who are reading this post: this means higher LTV, lower CAC, ... you get it! -. In the current age of consumption, creating an attractive ecosystem around high quality content is critical.

When we first launched our service at 2011's London Book Fair, we said to the world that we wanted to build a service "[...] all legal, all open, with a clear return of investment to publishers and authors, and with great advantages to potential readers." At that moment, fewer than 10,000 readers were supporting us; now we have almost 600,000 readers around the world. We were alone then; now, other strongly supported players are following. A handful of publishers believed in us; currently, thousands of publishers have signed up to ours or similar products around the world. The future is bright for ebook subscription services. Let's make it even brighter for the whole publishing industry, by working together.