All-you-can-guess about subscriptions

Image - Pixabay: Jay Mantri
Image – Pixabay: Jay Mantri

Publishing can be forgiven for its mixed response to the ebook-subscription issue.

Not only does the all-you-can-read construct for selling books run contrary to traditions in bookselling — and reading — but even some of our sister media disciplines, much deeper into their experience with subscriptions, are still trying to parse the effects of similar models.

Dena Levitz
Dena Levitz

Just today (7th April), Dena Levitz in PBS MediaShift’s “Cutting the Cord” series, looks atHow Streaming and Binging Has Changed Our Relationship With TV. Excerpting a few of the “nine ways this shift is changing our relationship with TV”:

  • Netflix hired Harris Interactive to study what’s happening on its platform. Among the results, it was found that 61 percent admitted to binge-watching (tuning in to two or three episodes in one sitting) regularly. Most in the study considered the behavior positive, with 76 percent saying packing in multiple episodes was a welcome distraction and refuge from life, and 79 percent claiming that binging on shows makes them better…
  • When a show is thrust to the public in one burst, there might be bigger fanfare immediately, but the social explosion dies out quickly.Amazon’s data supports this belief, which is why it’s refusing to take an all-at-once release approach…
  • Slate, together with SurveyMonkey, examined TV viewing behavior last year. Quality, they discovered, matters. It’s not just Kevin Spacey’s cheeky asides to the camera as Frank Underwood, you might say, that lures in viewers but high-caliber cinematography or attention to details in the writing. A full 64 percent said high production value was the top reason to tune in and binge…

And, of course, as soon as we try to compare the world of books and ebooks to the fields of television, film, music, video games, we have to ask whether such reflections can really have any bearing on publishing? Usually the answer is…we just don’t know.  Look at those three points from Levitz’ roundup. They prompt us to wonder whether in a time of ebook subscriptions, can we infer that:

  • “Binge reading” might be on the rise?
  • Or that releasing a major series of books to a subscription service at once could mean “bigger fanfare” but a fast-dying “social explosion”?
  • Or that quality will be determined to matter in the minds of dedicated subscribers?


Morten Strunge
Morten Strunge

Again, the answer: We just don’t know. We do know, as discussed in our #FutureChat walkup, Do you subscribe to subscriptions?, that a recent spate of commentary around the relatively new subject of ebook subscriptions has brought into sharper focus several viewpoints that might conflict with each other but seem to show some staying power in the debate. For instance, there was that balder-than-usual statement of how an ebook subscription model might be economically sustainable from Mofibo c.e.o. Morten Strunge in Lasse Winkler and Johanna Westlund’s report forThe Bookseller:

The key to success, Strunge says, is to get enough customers who read occasionally or very seldomly. All of Mofibo’s advertising is aimed towards this market…Strunge does not believe the target group he wants is the same group of people who buy most of their books in physical bookshops or online. He therefore believes that Mofibo, if successful, will increase the number of readers and reading generally. ”We will only make a profit if we manage to reach the ‘medium’ and ‘almost-never’ readers. And in that case, we will expand the market,” he maintains.


Tim Hely Hutchinson
Tim Hely Hutchinson

There was the bracing, honest rejection of the idea of subscription from Hachette’s Tim Hely Hutchinson in his interview with my Bookseller colleague Philip Jones.

Hely Hutchinson:

I don’t believe in subscription. I don’t see how it would do anything other than cannibalise the business we already have. I know other people take a different view. Within the limits of the law, I hope [HarperCollins UK c.e.o.] Charlie Redmayne will explain it to me, because I don’t get it.

Nathan Hull
Nathan Hull

And there was the cool, tantalizing rationale of Nathan Hull’s promise of extraordinary reader-behavioural data — to be shared with data-starved publishers — that an outfit like Mofibo can deliver.

In his essay for us at The FutureBook, Hull wrote:

Our data is gathered from a continuously evolving reading environment where habits are formed. Not just purchase habits — but also frequency of reading, locations for reading, devices on which people read and much more. There’s layer upon layer of rich, contextual data that reveals an incredible amount about readers’ behaviour. Just take the 1.2 million pages of books read every day on Mofibo, throw in the 600,000 minutes of audiobooks listened to daily and imagine the possibilities of that combined scale.

When we took all this to The FutureBook’s digital publishing community in #FutureChat on Friday, the responses showed a lot of thought going into what ebook subscriptions may mean — or not.

Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook:  #FutureChat recap: All-you-can-guess about ebook subscriptions

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