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    © 2014, Joseph B. Wikert
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« Bricks vs. Clicks | Main | Forbest Top 10: Congrats Gina Trapani and Robert Scoble! »

December 17, 2007



Very interesting idea indeed! For ebooks, a subscription-based model could be the answer the progressive publishing community has been looking for. I'm certainly open to the idea.

The only problem I see with using a subscription-based model is the problem of ownership. Would the reader be able to keep all those books forever? Or would they be deleted after a year (for example)? I only bring this up because people love owning books - print and digital alike. Personally, I have a hard time getting rid of a book or deleting it from my computer for the simple reason that I like to go back and reference it in the future or even re-read it.

Nevertheless that issue is a very small point, and I only bring it up because it popped into my mind while reading your post. But I love the subscription idea, it would definitely save me a ton of money! :-)

Joe Wikert

Hi Brad. There are a number of different ways to approach your question. The most obvious answer would be to mimic the music subscription model where you can keep and listen to the songs as long as you pay the monthly fee. Btw, I'm doing that today with my Inno XM radio. I can record up to 50 hours worth of content on it and it remains on the device as long as I remain an XM subscriber. I love it because it turns my XM radio into an MP3 player I can listen to even when I don't have a signal (e.g., on an airplane).

The other driving factor in this is storage space. You'd reach the limit of a Kindle's capacity before you'd run out of titles to download, so you'd be forced to delete some to make room for new ones.

In either scenario you don't ever own the books though. You're just renting them indefinitely, as long as you continue paying the monthly fee.


While it's not quite 'unlimited access' there are publishers out there who currently have book release clubs where you sign up and pay to (blindly) receive their next X publications - McSweeney's and Microcosm are two main independent publishers that do it. For me, it would depend on who was offering the content - that's why I sign up to and support the two aforementioned publishers.


Fran Toolan

Hi Joe,

Isn't that Safari's model? or at least one of them? But, of course, you are taking it to a whole new level, across all publishers. It's an interesting idea, although one that would surely disintermediate the role of the library.

Unless of course, libraries start lending e-reading devices!

Joe Wikert

Hi Fran. Yes, Safari is another provider of this model, similar to Books24x7. As I mentioned earlier though, nobody offers it on the scale that I'm talking about and certainly not for a dedicated device like the Kindle. Without poking too much fun at Major League Baseball, you could think of this as "Books24x7/Safari on Steroids."


excellent idea Joe, I post it on my french blog today

Fran Toolan

oh I think its fair to poke all kinds of fun at major league baseball... especially since their payscale 'is on steroids' compared to anyone I know in the publishing industry!


"Could you imagine a model where you pay $X/month for access to an unlimited number of books? It's never going to happen in the print world..."

Long-time reader. Confused. You reported the exact opposite last March at

I followed after your report/interview, and have been a subscriber since they launched. It has been exactly what you just said is "never going to happen". It's access to unlimited number of books.

Care to explain the discrepancy?

Joe Wikert

Hi Rob. Great question. I may not have been clear enough when I explained the vision for this unlimited program, so let me tell you why I think it's significantly different than Bookswim.

First of all, it's all about volume. Bookswim offers a program where you can have 5 or so books at the same time. What I'm describing is only limited by the capacity of the device; in this case, dozens of books and probably in the hundreds. Now before you say "that's silly, who reads dozens of books at a time," consider reference guides. It's nice to have access to a lot of information/knowledge all in one convenient, portable device.

Second, instant gratification, thanks to the Kindle. With Bookswim you have to wait for the books to arrive and it could take days. With Kindle it's instant. On a related note, you're typically giving up a book to get a book with Bookswim and that's not the case with what I'm describing (until you max out the storage on your device).

Third, availability isn't limited to a physical inventory. If Bookswim doesn't have the book you're interested in because all available copies are already out on loan, well, you're out of luck. That doesn't happen in the e-book world.

Those are the first three key differences I see between this idea and Bookswim. Btw, this isn't intended to be a slam against Bookswim! I still think it's a great idea. It is indeed "Netflix for books", but what I'm talking about is something that's much broader and deeper.


I don't understand why you wouldn't want to own music, unless you are a teenager whose tastes change every month. If you just want to find out about new music genres, podcasts are free. I really don't want my music and books to be hostage to the lovely business model of the cable and phone companies. The only exception might be textbooks. In fact, I'm the opposite--if all TV content could be downloaded on an a-la-carte basis and easily sent to my TV I'd love it.

Joe Wikert

Hi ash966. I used to be against the subscription model but the more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards it. In fact, my next major purchase, which won't be for at least 6 months or so, is probably a new MP3 player. When I get it, I'm highly likely to cancel my XM Radio subscription and go with an all-you-can-download subscription for the new player instead. I like the XM device but it's inconvenient when I'm on a plane or otherwise outside the signal area. Plus, I'm at the mercy of whatever the jocks on XM want to play. With an MP3 player and music subscription I'm back in charge.

Roy Blumenthal

One of the reasons the print world makes books so expensive -- even with print-on-demand -- is because of the physical costs of physical resources.

A publisher has to estimate the number of copies a print book might sell. They also have to estimate the number of extra 'marketing' copies required for a particular book to feel 'present' in a bricks and mortar bookshop. (I'm talking about the copies that must be present in a store in order for the book to get traction, even though the publisher knows that those copies will eventually be returned by the store.)

Your model -- eat till you burst -- is superb, in that it recognises the artificiality of the pricing model currently extant.

But there's a different way of thinking about Kindle prices. Publishers could start looking at their dollar PROFIT per book, along with the dollar ROYALTY PAYMENT per book, rather than any of the physical real-world costs that have traditionally been used in pricing.

So, if, as a print publisher, I had to sell a certain book for US$15 in order to recoup my retailer's discount, print costs, distribution costs, royalty costs, and still make a profit of a dollar a book, I could simply price a Kindle book at US$2, for instance, and still make what I used to make... with none of the hassles.

(I've simplified that to exclude the price of editors. But even so, let's throw in a royalty fee for editors, rather than a straight fee. Let's be generous and give our editorial team a buck a book. That recognises their vital role in the process of bringing a book to fruition, and it makes them more accountable for its success or failure.)

Blue skies


Hi Joe,

Just to let you know that what you describe already exists in France: examples are , . Let me know if you wish more info :-)



I've been wondering when this sort of model would be proposed and have even variously suggested that an eReader should be offered free of charge or very cheaply - something along the lines of the cellphone/mobile plans in Europe - if someone subscribes for a minimum length of time.


I had to go back and read this post since I'm actually developing a membership site that would offer access to a niche collection of e-books (but more on that later). Pageviews certainly could be one factor in determining the amount to pay authors. Suspected click fraud would likely be deterred since clicks are tied to a member ID.

Another aspect could be the affiliate bonus that authors get for referring readers to the site from the author's web site.

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