The breakdown of the subscription model for books.

1 minute read

Is this the beginning of the end for subscription ebooks services?

Oyster and Scribd have blazed a new trail in the books world by offering an “all you can eat” / “all you can read” pricing. Pay a flat fee and read any book in their library, Netflix style.

It was a promising way of opening up how much people would read — if you could read any book for a flat fee, why wouldn’t you, instead of buying them all?

The challenge was and is, that this isn’t in the economic interests of the publishers, who are protecting the margins on the most desired books by selling them (either in physical or ebook form). A sale of one book per month generates far more revenue for them than letting you rent them from Oyster. As a result, Oyster (and it’s competitor Scribd) have been hobbled because the publishers only give them the so-called “back catalog”, the less-desired books. And so people end up not subscribing, or (in my case) canceling their Oyster subscriptions, because they don’t have the books I want to read. All this has been clear to industry watchers for some time; the question was who would give first — the startups running out of cash, or the publishers as a bargaining chip in their on-going battle with Amazon?

Today we have some news on that. Oyster is now selling, not renting, books. Basically admitting defeat, as this article suggests:

The problem isn’t (and hasn’t been) that readers needed to ways to acquire books and lower cost. There’s so many options — Amazon (including many free/low cost ebooks), B&N (physical stores + Nook), Apple, Indie Bookstores, your local library (free for goodness sake!), and others I’ve likely forgotten.

The problem is finding great stuff to read. Which is why we started The Hawaii Project. Join us and Do Good by Reading Well. (also on Kickstarter now: The Hawaii Project on Kickstarter