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Can The Subscription Model Work For Publishing?

by Jennifer Puglisi (@jenpugs) When I think of subscription services, magazines immediately pop to mind (am I dating myself?). But the more I think about it, the more I find that the subscription system isn’t quite as antiquated as I thought (and as an avid Netflix lover, I should have known better!). Many modern music Read more

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by Jennifer Puglisi (@jenpugs)

When I think of subscription services, magazines immediately pop to mind (am I dating myself?). But the more I think about it, the more I find that the subscription system isn’t quite as antiquated as I thought (and as an avid Netflix lover, I should have known better!). Many modern music and movie services uses these kinds of systems to tailor a user’s experience based around his or her preferences. Pretty basic, and pretty smart. Is there any reason book publishing shouldn’t go the same route?

Now that the e-readers and tablets are here to stay—and it’s possible to download an entire book in minutes—this idea may not be too far off in the future.  Publishers should jump on board with this idea before others beat them to the punch.

Purchasing digital content is optimal for today’s media consumer. In a similar vein to purchasing music or movies digitally, a book subscription service can offer a way for budget-minded consumers to make legal, fast, safe, quality book purchases instantly.  Also similar to current music and movie subscription services, it offers a way to raise revenue through advertising.  Though some purists argue that ads have no place in a book, we all have to admit that publishing needs all of the money it can get these days (and, purists, this idea is nothing new). Whether this revenue will be shared with authors and publishers, or retained by services like Amazon remains to be seen.

Several companies have embraced the subscription model for printed books. The Book of the Month Club, a subscription-based service that offers books to members at a discount, has been around since 1928 and was once considered a literary giant. Though the club (and its brother and sister clubs, all based under the Direct Brands, Inc) has faced some growing pains, they’ve recently begun to embrace an online presence. Their subscription service, however, doesn’t include e-books. Independent publishers have started offering similar programs, but again, without e-books included.

More and more libraries have been jumping on board and are beginning to offer e-book lending services, but that service comes with the usual library pitfall of waiting lists and other complications. Does anyone else feel this gap in the market?

As recently as a few weeks ago, Amazon wondered the same thing themselves. They’re reportedly in talks with major publishers to create a system similar to Netflix; publishers are reportedly not enthusiastic about the idea. There are the usual licensing and royalty issues to work out, and some worry that a subscription system will lower the value of books overall.

As e-books become easier to produce, it’s also not entirely out of the question that authors with an established fan base take matters in to their own hands and offer their own subscription services, leaving publishers out of the equation entirely.

This is where publishers need to take a step back and learn from the music business: record labels and bands slow to embrace the digital revolution were quickly left behind. This is happening; it’s just a matter of finding a happy medium for everyone. Sink or swim, publishers!

 

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