Scribd makes cuts to romance in its catalog

Scribd makes cuts to romance in its catalog

Scribd has announced to publishers and distributors that it is "making some adjustments, particularly to romance" in its $8.99-per-month ebook subscription service.

Described by Mark Coker, founder and c.e.o. of Smashwords, as "dramatic cuts to [Scribd's] catalog of romance and erotica titles," the changes are removing an unknown portion of the subscription's titles from the service. Coker tells his company's independent authors, "Effective immediately, I estimate that 80-90 percent of Smashwords romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including nearly all of our most popular romance titles.  Books priced at free are safe and will remain in their catalog."

The announcement of Scribd's action coincides with the advent (1st July) of Amazon's new per-page payment structure, announced earlier this month for the retailer's own subscription services, Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Scribd has supplied this statement to The Bookseller from Trip Adler, c.e.o. and founder:

"Over the past two years, the Scribd catalog has grown from 100,000 titles to more than one million. We’re proud of the service we’ve built and we’re constantly working to expand the selection across genres to give our readers the broadest possible list of books for $8.99 per month. We’ve grown to a point where we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service. We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available. There are still thousands of romance titles and a lifetime of books to read in the romance genre and beyond. We look forward to continuing to grow subscribers, increase overall reading, and increase total publisher payouts in a way that works for everyone over the long term."

As reported in early October last year, Scribd entered a partnership with HarperCollins-owned Harlequin to make more than 15,000 titles available. Described as a one-year agreement, the deal was for "backlist titles from a variety of imprints" to be made available for rental.

In contact with Scribd's offices in San Francisco, The Bookseller asked if the changes to the romance sector of the catalog would affect the Harlequin arrangement. 

Scribd public relations manager Lyndsey Besser answered that the company "is not singling out any specific publishers, small versus big, etc. We are working in an identical manner with all publishers that provide us with romance titles."

At 6:15 p;.m. California time, 2:15 a.m. in London, Besser has also supplied The Bookseller with a just-posted commentary from Adler at the Scribd site. Adler's statement is aimed at Scribd readers and asserts what the c.e.o. says is the company's commitment to the romance genre:

"Today, we’ve heard several friends in the Scribd community who have voiced concerns about our commitment to the romance genre. Let me state loudly and clearly that we remain committed to our romance audience. Romance has been one of our top genres since day one, and we’re so proud that we’ve attracted such a passionate, voracious audience of readers. We’ve grown to such a point that we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to grow in a sustainable way. We are in the subscription business for the long haul, and while we are facing some growing pains today, we remain fully committed to our readers."

The catalog adjustments first came to general attention late Tuesday in the States in statements to independent authors from Smashwords and Draft2Digital, US self-publishing and distribution platforms.

The Bookseller reported in late December 2013 that Smashwords and Scribd had signed a deal to "add more than 225,000 ebooks from 70,000 authors and publishers to the service." 

Coker's article on his site's blog Tuesday quotes a bit more from Scribd's original message to publishers, including: "As you know, in starting Scribd, we bore the majority of the risk when establishing a business model that paid publishers the same amount as the retail model for each book read by a Scribd subscriber."

Coker's analysis interprets this to indicate, he writes, "that romance readers are heavy readers, and Scribd pays publishers retailer-level margins for the books...Bottom line, romance readers — readers we love dearly at Smashwords — are reading Scribd out of house and home.  Scribd's business model, as it's set up now, simply can't sustain the high readership of romance readers. They're not facing the same problem with readers of other genres."

In a message to authors from Draft2Digital's Dan Wood, quoted by Cool Gus publisher Bob Mayer, Wood writes:

"Scribd took a significant risk putting in place a model that paid authors the same amount as a retail model for each book read by a subscriber. As we all know, romance readers tend to be incredibly avid readers. In trying to cater to this voracious readership while under this progressive payment model, Scribd has put itself in a difficult place. In a bid to better balance these operating expenses, Scribd is immediately slashing the volume of romance novels in its subscription service. If you are receiving this email, then you are a Draft2Digital author who has published books in the romance genre to Scribd. This means that some or all of your romance novels are likely going to be delisted from their service today. (Books that are priced at free will not be removed.)"

Coker's Smashwords blog post Tuesday evening includes this commentary:

"I remain a big fan of Scribd, but today's news is especially disconcerting to those of us working to promote a diverse ecosystem of multiple bookselling options.  Romance represents a huge portion of ebook readership, so anything that harms romance authors and their readers is not good for the future of publishing. While I understand Scribd's need to stem the bloodletting, and I support their decision for this reason, I don't think they found the right solution yet.  I think a better solution — one which would strike the right balance between the needs of readers, authors, publishers and Scribd — is to introduce tiered subscription options that would allow moderate readers to enjoy the Scribd service at the $8.99 level, but then offer heavier readers another subscription tier — possibly priced at $14.99 or $19.99 or whatever — that wouldn't break the bank to the detriment of all authors.  These additional tiers would still provide heavy readers great value and convenience while still allowing Scribd and authors and publishers to earn their well-deserved profit."

In early January of this year, The Bookseller reported that Scribd had raised $22 million in a funding round led by Khosla Ventures. 

Scribd's site indicates that it has 80 million monthly readers in 194 countries.

Related content: 'Growing pains': Scribd's romance 'purge' at The FutureBook