A new take on ebook windowing
Another way to monetize ebooks

What’s the missing ingredient for unlimited reading services?

Infinity-1179939_1280I’ve been a fan of unlimited e-reading services for at least a couple of years now. When Oyster Books went under I shifted to Kindle Unlimited. For short-form magazine content I use Texture, the offering formerly known as Next Issue.

Prices for these services are typically in the $10-15/month range and, for the most part, I think they’re worth it. Even though I refer to them as “unlimited” one key shortcoming is what’s not available in the all-you-can-read platforms. You’ll rarely find the bestselling books in an unlimited reading service, for example. Just because the catalog offered contains hundreds of thousands of titles doesn’t mean you’re likely to find the next great read there.

Lately I’m realizing that I’m not getting much use out of my Texture subscription. The issue isn’t so much that it lacks titles. In fact, now that Texture includes access to almost 200 magazines it’s hard to find ones that aren’t included, and that’s the problem.

The value proposition for these unlimited services has always been based up on overwhelming you with content. What I really want them to offer now is a curated experience.

Texture knows that I enjoy reading BusinessWeek and Sports Illustrated, for example. Why not let me configure my Texture subscription to ensure I never miss articles about my favorite teams and industries/companies I want to follow? Then use that information to help me continue expanding my horizons, presenting me with content on adjacent businesses, for example.

Put all that material together in a custom magazine, made just for me every week (or whatever frequency I prefer). Let me vote up/down on articles so the system can better determine what I really like (e.g., certain writers, themes, styles, etc.) How about letting me share my custom magazines with other Texture subscribers, and vice versa?

Curation of unlimited book subscriptions is a bit trickier. But how about starting by sending excerpts from newly added titles I might enjoy, based on my reading habits to date? It often feels like I’m searching for that needle in a haystack when I try to figure out what book I should read next. There have got to be ways to simplify and help me narrow things down as well as ensure I don’t overlook an obvious winner.

I’m not looking for a million books or hundreds of magazines. I want what most interests me and I’d like to see the subscription services figure that out. Don’t make me just come to you and open your app. Communicate with me via email and/or text messages if I prefer. Surprise and delight me rather than simply expecting me to be wowed by the overwhelming amount of content offered.

Comments

Michael W. Perry

Back in the 1990s, I visited stopped for lunch in a locally run hamburger place in a little town north of Seattle. The place's only employee told me about the town's #1 gripe.

It seems that years earlier, the town's water supply was so cheap, it decided to charge a flat rate no matter how much water was used. That saved the cost of water meters and billing. Unfortunately, over time the demand for water rose so high, it couldn't be met with that cheap supply. Other, more expensive sources had to be found. That meant everyone's flat-rate water bill went up. Some people watered their gardens and their lawns and got a great deal. Other got upset that there was no way they could reduce their high water bill.

Unlimited reading is a bit like that. Those with lots of time and an interest in reading are free-loaders on those who read less. Disgusted with how much they have to pay for reading a couple of books a month, the latter group leaves. As time passes, the extensive reading by those who remain means that the service pays less per book read. Authors note that and pull or don't supply their books. The reading list declines.

Loosely put, that's how unlimited services get into trouble. Often the only fix the service can put into place is to decrease us by decreasing the usability.

Tom Wilson

Scribd goes a little way to giving you what you need by drawing attention to other books by the authors you've been reading recently and by recommending books of the same kind. If anyone there is reading your column (and that wouldn't surprise me!) I would not be surprised to see the other curatorial features you mention popping up in time. Scribd also answer Michael Perry's comment to an extent: you get access to three titles a month (more than enough for me), but if you want more there's a list of titles that can be read without that restriction and I find that the titles offered are so varied that it is easy to find something to read.

Kindle Unlimited is no real alternative to either Oyster or Scribd - there's far too much self-published rubbish on their list.

Mark Watkins

This post is spot on! There's oceans of content out there and people are buried in it. Conversely, there are many great curators out there, but their tastes and mine don't always overlap. And people are busy, they don't have time to go looking for stuff, it needs to be brought to them, contextually. Something needs to aggregate all that curated information, personalize it to my tastes, and bring it to me.

I call this "personalized curation", and I wrote more about it here: https://medium.com/@thehawaiiproj/the-power-and-limits-of-curation-panning-for-gold-in-the-digital-flood-2dd22d048069#.co9fkdgqp

At The Hawaii Project (The Hawaii Project), a personalized book discovery engine, we are taking an approach very much along the lines of what you suggest.

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