Nov 062014

E-book subscription service Scribd announced the addition of 30,000 audio books to its content trove on November 6, 2014.

Now is that really a big deal?

Will the addition of 30,000 audiobooks make Scribd a smashing hit with consumers and help the fledgling to eclipse its rivals?

Besides Scribd, Amazon (Kindle Unlimited) and Oyster also offer e-book subscription services.

Major E-Book Subscription Services

Failure Guaranteed

Sadly, none of the e-book subscription services are Netflix (in the sense of unlimited offerings) and in my opinion all of them will most likely fail.

In my opinion, there are several issues with e-book subscription services.

These hurdles will make it extremely hard for e-book subscriptions to succeed with consumers in a big way.


The success of iPads and iPhones is proof that customers are willing to pay for cool (even if ridiculously expensive) hardware.

Alas, consumers do not show the same enthusiasm when it comes to paying for electronic content except for rare exceptions like Netflix or Spotify.

Having the latest iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus earns you membership into the cool-cat category.

But nobody ever became cool by reading Anna Karenina, Pnin, Of Human Bondage or Francis Fukuyama’s new book Political Order and Political Decay.

There’s a content deluge in e-books, particularly since Amazon introduced Kindle self-publishing.

But the explosion in e-books is not translating into revenues for the authors who labor to create the content.

Few consumers are buying e-books even when they’re priced below a buck.

In the new world, content is king only if it’s free. Sad, but that’s the reality.

Reading Alternatives

Even in its best days, reading was a passion restricted to a small eccentric group who thought poring over a page was more entertaining than watching the TV screen, listening to the radio, gossiping with friends or beating your meat.

Today, the Internet offers a cornucopia of entertainment alternatives like games, porn, news, learning, social networking etc at the mere click on your mouse.

Given the growth of strong, free online alternatives, it’s no surprise that the reading habit (of books) has been declining in recent years.

The growth of the Internet has paralleled the reduction in attention span of most people in recent years.

Limited Content

Selection of content on e-book subscription services still leaves a lot to be desired from the perspective of potential subscribers.

One main reason is that there are far more books than movies. I suspect the ratio of books to movies is at least 1000:1.

With Netflix, the chances of your not finding a two-year-old or 10-year-old movie on its service is very low. Only new movies are not available on Netflix and most subscribers are willing to accept that.

In that sense, the choices are truly limitless with Netflix. French, Italian, Hindi, English, Russian, old movies, new films, horror films, romances, action thrillers, I bet Netflix panders to every taste.

But in the case of both Kindle Unlimited, Oyster and Scribd, forget new books. Even decades-old classics are unavailable.

I searched for the author Simon Sebag Montefiore (author of two fine Stalin biographies) on Kindle Unlimited and couldn’t find any. On Scribd, I couldn’t find several books by Francis Fukuyama or Jonathan Miles’ 2013 book Want Not. And on Oyster, I couldn’t find Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book The Lowland.

Library Challenge

Netflix has no free, legal challengers for its popular service.

But every e-book subscription service has a powerful legal challenger – The local Library.

Because of budget cuts, U.S. libraries have reduced their hours and offerings but they are still good enough for most of us.

Libraries (at least in the U.S.) are still a strong, free alternative. Plus, most libraries can get you a book from other branches if they don’t have your pick.


There are no easy solutions to boosting e-book subscriptions.

I suspect it’s more like Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

So what can e-book subscription services do?

E-book service providers could collectively lobby against libraries and paint them in dark colors (the way Uber car service has attacked yellow taxis in New York City and elsewhere). But that’s easier said than done because it’s hard to beat free.

The other option is to boost selection into the millions thus ensuring the service will pander to most tastes.

Finally, there’s always the price cut option ($4.99?) or maybe even some form of bundling with hardware vendors.

But even if e-book subscription services cut their price to $4.99 a month, I’m not sure if any of them will ever grow into a Netflix like viable behemoth.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.