Penguin Random House has withdrawn its e-books and digital audio titles from unlimited access subscription models in a major rebuttal of the business model.
PRH has long argued against such models, which it believes risk devaluing the price of content, but has allowed some e-books and audio titles to feature in the type of all-you-eat models that have become popular in Northern Europe, with retailers, including Storytel and Bookbeat, broadly successful in growing audience numbers off the back of the offer. However, PRH has now said its books will no longer be available on unlimited access subscription models.
A company spokesperson for PRH UK said: "Penguin Random House has decided that at this stage we will not participate in unlimited access subscription models. Our decision was made collectively by the company’s international leadership team to preserve a diversity of content in the marketplace and the actual and perceived long-term value of our authors’ intellectual property." The move has led to speculation that PRH was poised to launch its own rival subscription service in the manner of the forthcoming Disney+ streaming operation that will try to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime, but the company has scotched those rumours. Such a move would be a huge surprise given PRH's long antipathy towards subscription models, and its committed support of existing booksellers.
In contrast to PRH’s approach, last October HarperCollins began selling a "limited number" of backlist e-books via Amazon’s £7.99 a month subscription e-book service Kindle Unlimited in the UK and Australia as a "strategic and tactical" push.
The news follows PRH UK’s newly centralised rights structure, unveiled in November, to encourage “a stronger and more strategic platform to explore the best rights opportunities on behalf of its authors and unlock growth potential” the publisher said during the consultation stage.
In December it was revealed that Pearson was selling 25% stake in Penguin Random House to Bertelsmann, as its c.e.o. John Fallon prepared to retire in 2020, with the deal expected to close in the first half of this year.
The Bonnier Books-owned subscription service BookBeat announced it was “pausing” broader investments in the UK market in early 2018 because there had been so much reluctance from bigger publishers.