Here’s how reader analytics can help publishers

I recently asked what questions you’d like to see answered via reader analytics. I gathered feedback from a variety of publishers including trade, professional and educational.

The standard requests about reading sequence, how long it takes to finish a chapter, what devices are used, etc., were raised, of course. But there were a number of other suggestions I hadn’t anticipated, and reader data could definitely help answer these questions for authors, editors and publishers.

Here are a few of the more interesting questions publishers are hoping reader analytics will help answer:

What’s the conversion rate for samples/previews? This is another reason for publishers to develop and implement an ebook sampling program they totally own and promote aggressively. 

What time of day and what days of the week are most popular for reading? It would be interesting to compare titles across genres to see what patterns emerge.

What bonus features/links do readers click on? You’d finally be able to determine whether these additional elements make a difference.

How much time is spent on margin notes (e.g., sidebars and other elements outside the main text)? As one respondent asked, “do readers simply skip past everything in a box?” What a great question, although most of the boxes from the print edition probably disappear in the plain, generic reflow view. Still, it would be great to see if these are being read or skipped.

Related to the previous question, once someone clicks to an external link, how soon do they come back to the book? And, how often does the book reading session come to an end after clicking on those outbound links? It’s every online publisher’s biggest fear. They don’t want to lose the eyeballs for additional ad impressions. Does that same scenario matter in the ebook world?

How long is a single page left open? This one came from a cookbook publisher who is curious to see if they can determine what percentage of readers make the recipes with the ebook open.

Is the index being accessed? Terrific question but I think the cards are stacked against the index. First of all, most ebooks I read have no index. Second, the ones that do have an index typically don’t include links, so all you get is a bunch of page references with no meaning in reflow mode.

Is the table of contents being accessed? Similar to the previous question and largely dependent on whether that TOC includes links.

What content is copied-and-pasted most frequently? Maybe the answers to this terrific question, and the reader behavior it indicates, would help publishers become less squeamish about enabling copy-and-paste from their ebooks.

What are the sentences that are most frequently highlighted and commented on? Some ebook apps let readers see the most popular highlighted sentences but it would be better for publishers to have an aggregated view, including reader comments.

What’s being searched and, more importantly, what’s the conversion rate of readers clicking on a result vs. those who simply give up after the search? It seems like most of us are only asking the first part of that question but it would be wonderful to understand what happens after those search results are displayed. Also, are the most clicked-on results the ones at the top or do we need a better way of presenting and sorting the results?

I’m sure there are other interesting questions reader analytics can help answer but this list is a good start. Given that most publishers receive no reader data whatsoever, answering even a handful of these questions would represent a huge step in the right direction.

“What is code?” illustrates rich content potential

The painful reality is that we still live in a print-under-glass world, struggling to produce content that leverages our powerful phones and tablets. I was explaining this to a publisher recently and the phrase “escape velocity” came to mind.

In simple terms, escape velocity is what’s required for an object to break free from another object’s gravitational pull. For example, a rocket being launched from earth or, in this case, a publisher trying to create content that’s more deeply engaging than simply putting the print edition on a digital screen. In the latter case, everything from significant print revenues to industry indifference represent the gravitational pull that needs to be escaped.

The latest example proving we’re still in the print-under-glass era is a terrific Businessweek article called What is code?  The fact that rich and engaging pieces like this draw so much attention and are so few and far between proves we’re still only in the early innings of digital content innovation and evolution.

If you haven’t read the article I highly recommend you take the time and carefully go through it. If you’re not a programmer you’ll learn a lot. But even if you’re a coding master you’ll still learn a thing or two, including how content will eventually take baby steps away from today’s print-under-glass approach.

Here are the most takeaways I got from this Businessweek article: 

  • Measuring visits and reading time – I opened and closed it a few times before finally reading the entire piece. I found it interesting that a pop-up noted how many times I had opened it previously as well as how long I had already spent scanning it. This information may not be valuable for a magazine article but it would be very useful for tutorial content to see how long it takes to learn a subject. It would also be extremely valuable for publishers to discover where readers tend to spend the most time.
  • Dynamic visuals – Be sure to check out the circuitry animation that appears at the start of the second section. If you’re not familiar with the concept of logic gates, take a minute or two to read the callout and watch the animation. And have you ever wondered what happens when you press a key on your keyboard? There’s another animation for this and, as the callout notes, quite a few things happen behind the scenes before the key you pressed appears on your screen. Note that neither of these are “enrichment for enrichment’s sake”. Creating deeply engaging content like this requires a great deal of work, especially when it comes to figuring out exactly what type of dynamic visuals will add to the experience, not interfere with it.
  • Deeper dives, but only if you want them –Note the rounded rectangular numbered items interspersed throughout and how they’re used as pop-up notes. It’s not the best UI element but I love how they quickly provide more depth without taking the reader away from the current paragraph. A key here is to provide this additional depth unobtrusively. The best UI enables a smooth reading flow for readers who don’t care to read these pop-ups while ensuring the additional content is easily accessible for those who want it.
  • Annoying visuals – As good as this Businessweek article is, it would have been even better without the animated blue box character with the black hat and flower. The designer probably felt it added personality or maybe even gave the piece an attitude; in reality, it made the whole experience feel like a 1980’s experiment featuring a Walking Dead version of the Charlie Chaplin PC Jr. character. The lesson here is to focus on functional value rather than gimmicks.

If you read to the end you’ll discover another feature that combines something useful with yet another gimmick, which is unfortunate.

I applaud Businessweek and author Paul Ford for helping show the possibilities of a post-print-under-glass world. Here’s to hoping escape velocity is just around the corner and soon this sort of content will be considered standard, not edgy.

What questions do your reader analytics need to answer?

In my book publisher days I recall saying the following to our Amazon rep: “You guys are capturing a ton of reading data from our customers. When are you going to start charging us to access that information?”

She looked at me like I just arrived from another planet and declined to answer the question.

A few years have passed since that encounter but some things never change. Amazon is still the dominant ebook retailer and they continue hoarding reader data, sharing only bits and pieces from time to time. I’m still convinced once day they’ll offer a detailed reader analytics service to publishers…for a price. The data will be anonymized, of course, but it will benefit publishers by shedding valuable light on reading habits and preferences.

In the mean time, Olive Software, the company where I serve as director of strategy, is in the process of revamping its ebook reader app. We want to take our analytics to the next level and we’d like your input. You see, at Olive, we believe in providing publishers with every bit of data about their readers and we do so at no additional charge.

As a former publisher these are the types of questions I would want the data to answer:

  1. How many people opened the book they bought?
  2. Did the typical consumer read from beginning to end, in chronological order, or did they jump around a lot, reading out of sequence?
  3. When readers didn’t finish the book, at what point did they tend to abandon it?
  4. What are the most popular phrases searched for when reading the book?

I’m sure there are plenty of other questions publishers, editors, marketers, etc., would love to see answered with analytics. What are the questions you need data to help answer?

Click here to email me the reader behavior questions you’d like analytics to answer. I’ll gather all the input and will summarize it in a follow-up article. That’s probably yet another thing Amazon would never do for you. :-)

Observations from BEA 2015

The Javits Center must have some sort of time warp technology. I recently attended the BEA event there and I kept asking myself the same question: Is this 2015 or 2005? The digital vibe was almost nowhere to be found in the expo hall. For example, publishers are still handing out stacks of print galleys and samples. Is that really more effective than digital copies? Wouldn’t it be better to distribute e-versions and gather customer info along the way? All this talk of establishing direct relationships with readers and having access to the resulting data still seems to be the stuff of fiction.

There’s also still a big gap between the core industry and the startup community. The Startup Alley, an expo aisle featuring 15 or so up-and-comers, is a nice concept but doesn’t seem very effective for anyone. It also highlights a bigger problem in the publishing industry: there’s no platform or service that continuously evaluates new startups and helps match them with publishers who could benefit from their capabilities. Startups are generally relegated to an area off the beaten path with virtually no buzz to draw attention to them. That’s sad because, as Richard Nash pointed out during the IDPF conference, it’s clear the real innovation is going to come from the startup community.

The most painfully accurate statement I heard all week was from Michael Bhaskar of Canelo Publishing during his opening session at the IDPF event: “Publishers treat ebooks as a secondary priority.” This is partially understandable given the fact that print is still the largest revenue stream but I believe this mindset also prevents digital content from achieving its full potential. 

Bhaskar made another terrific point when he noted that the music industry is leveraging consumer curation in ways the book publishing industry hasn’t even dreamed of. I believe tomorrow’s e-content leaders will fully understand and encourage consumer curation. Whether you call it remixes, custom editions or something else, this is a concept that will help the industry achieve escape velocity from today’s print-under-glass model.

The IDPF conference highlight for me was Jane McGonigal’s session. I haven’t played a video game since PacMan in the early ‘80’s so I went into this one highly skeptical but she opened my eyes to the possibilities. It’s not that every book has to become a game. That’s not it at all. Rather, she challenged the audience to find ways of creating content that takes readers to a whole new level of enthusiasm. The images she showed of gamers completely engaged and immersed in the experience were inspiring.

Another valuable IDPF session was one where Jim Hanas of HarperCollins interviewed David Arabov of Elite Daily. Arabov described how Elite Daily organically builds audience and community and turns that into their finished product. Compare that to book publishing where a totally non-agile approach is used to build products behind closed doors with the hope that yesterday’s marketing models will generate buzz (e.g., buying promotions, shelf space on physical shelves, etc.). Wouldn’t it be cool if publishers engaged with readers during the idea conception and development process rather than waiting till the end after all the time and money have been invested? That sounds like Wattpad to me, which might explain why Allen Lau and his team always report such amazingly high traffic levels. Now they just need to figure out how that translates into revenue, of course…

I had the pleasure of serving as moderator on a couple of IDPF panel sessions. The Amazon panel included Molly Barton and she made an excellent point about the problems with today’s closed ebook ecosystem. As Molly described it, readers often want to socialize their reading experience and today’s model forces them to have those conversations away from the book. Why not integrate this functionality in the reading app? It can be completely unobtrusive, where the service only appears when the reader wants to access it rather than forcing readers off to other apps and platforms.

All-you-can-read subscriptions were, of course, a topic that came up many times throughout the week. Scribd’s Andrew Weinstein shared some observations including how this model affects the long tail. As Weinstein put it, with unlimited reading platforms consumers are more willing to abandon a book and move on to the next one if they lose interest, figuring there’s no additional cost to taste-test a lot of books every month. First of all, let’s hope that’s doesn’t turn out to be the most important benefit subscription platform have to offer. Second, what does that say about the industry’s inability to create a sampling model that actually works?

Finally, I wanted to mention an interesting quote from Sherisse Hawkins of Beneath the Ink. Sherisse has been a pioneer in pushing ebooks beyond the print-under-glass experience and she said that one of their readers recently sent a message saying, “thank you for helping me avoid getting lost in the ‘wiki holes’”. That reminded me of the new Wright Brothers book by David McCullough that I recently finished. It was a fantastic read but I can’t tell you how many times my curiosity led me away from the book to Google where I searched for locations, images and related content. Unlike Sherrise’s customer, I did get lost in a variety of “wiki holes”, but it once again proved to me that this industry needs to figure out how to provide consumers with something more than dumb content on smart devices.

How curation automation is going to disrupt content consumption

The best content curators have extensive topic knowledge and a knack for reader interests and preferences. That sounds like something only a living, breathing human can do, right? While that’s largely the case today, I believe technology will drive the biggest advancements in content curation tomorrow.

Narrative Science is a terrific example. I met Kris Hammond of Narrative Science a few years ago when he spoke at a Tools of Change conference I helped produce. If you’re not familiar with them, Narrative Science is one of those companies that develop tools to automate story writing.

You may have read a computer-generated article or two this week and never even realized it. Think you can tell the difference between human- and auto-generated content? Stick around and take the quiz at the end of this article… 

Data is at the heart of the stories generated by Narrative Science but what exactly is “data”? In the current model, data typically consists of numbers, tables and other highly structured information. For example, the narrative summary of last night’s baseball game could be auto-generated using nothing more than the game’s box score, the data from the event.

As platforms like Narrative Science’s evolve, so will the definition of data. 

Last week I wrote an article about why all-you-can-read subscriptions need curation. We’re drowning in a sea of content and we need better tools to help us uncover and consume the must-read content. There’s a big difference between what you and I consider must-read though and that’s where the curation element comes into play.

A number of industry pundits criticized my thinking and pointed out the high cost of this sort of curation. I agree. Curation today almost always requires human intervention. But what happens when that’s no longer the case?

What happens when an application is able to rewrite and summarize the sea of daily content that’s most important to you? What happens when this tool, which knows your interests, your job responsibilities, etc., is able to deliver a fully-automated Cliffs Notes version of everything you need to read that day?

I think that will be a game-changer and will become an extremely important, real world application for artificial intelligence. Will it put writers out of business? No, not necessarily. After all, most of the original content still has to be written by someone. But it will help amplify the content that needs to be read, enabling it to rise above all the noise that surrounds it. 

Still think this is nothing more than sci-fi and wishful thinking? Take this short quiz and see if you can figure out whether each of these excerpts were human-generated or computer-generated.

Why all-you-can-read subscriptions need curation

The initial promise is compelling, especially for voracious readers. For $10-$15/month consumers get access to more content than they could possibly read in a month. That ultimately creates a bigger problem than the subscription platforms probably realize.

For more than a year now I’ve been a subscriber to both Oyster, for books, and Next Issue, for magazines. Both have slightly altered my reading habits but neither are serving their content in an optimal manner.

For Next Issue, it’s as though the U.S. Post Office backs up a truck and dumps 100+ magazines every month. Sure, there are many I enjoy and a few that I used to value enough to buy individually in the print days. Compare that large, unreadable stack to one thin magazine, The Week. If I had to choose between the 100+ Next Issue magazines and The Week, the latter wins every time.

What makes The Week so unique? Their editors are curating and quoting content from many other magazines, covering both sides of all the major issues. IOW, when I read The Week I feel as if I just read the Cliff’s Notes of all the top newspapers and magazines…and I can accomplish this in less than an hour.

The Week is efficient and Next Issue is bloated. When I finish reading an issue of The Week I feel like I got a thorough global debriefing in record time. When I close the Next Issue app I feel like I wasted much of the abundant content in magazines I never opened let alone read.

The Week has obviously invested in an editorial team to create this unique and valuable experience. The all-you-can-read services like Next Issue are simply throwing more content at you in its original container, hoping you’ll see the value. It’s like comparing a fine restaurant to The Golden Corral. I’ll overindulge on junk food from time to time but I certainly don’t want to do it every day at every meal.

I should point out that I still like my Next Issue subscription and find it valuable. But it could be so much better. Next Issue could offer a curated option like The Week and charge a premium for that model. In fact, I could see cheaper and pricier subscription models built off the Next Issue foundation. You like sports? Pay $5/month and get access to the curated, The Week-like version, of all the top sports stories every month. You want a curated version of everything? You’ll need to pay more than the $15/month Next Issue charges for their current premium option.

There will always be room for simple, all-you-can-read models like Oyster and Next Issue. But these platforms can attract even more subscribers and offer a variety of models by also embracing a curation model like The Week.

Here’s a dilemma every book publisher should hope to face

A recent email from Evernote piqued my curiosity. I’ve used the note-taking tool for years but never found a reason to upgrade from the Basic (free) version to the Premium (paid) version. Their email announced a “Plus” version with a laundry list of features.

Evernote Plus costs half the price of Premium and offers benefits that are somewhere between Basic and Premium. After reviewing the features I decided Basic still suits my needs, so I remain an Evernote freeloader.

I’m sure I’m not alone and I’m equally certain Evernote will continue tinkering with their business models. At some point they’ll likely hit on a combination that finally gets me to open my wallet.

You could argue that the biggest challenge for a company like Evernote is finding ways to convert more freeloaders into paying customers. It’s a tricky business situation and something that’s totally foreign to book publishers.

Why aren’t book publishers exploring more viable ways to acquire customers with free content and then converting them into paying customers?

The biggest free tool book publishers use today is a poorly conceived one: the ebook sample. When it comes to nudging prospective customers to click the buy button, most ebook samples are only marginally better than the book’s product page description. Samples are also distributed in a manner that doesn’t exactly encourage sharing with friends and family. 

Simply alerting me to a new book doesn’t do the trick either. I’m a big sports fan, mostly baseball and hockey. Long ago I subscribed to an email newsletter telling me about new books as they’re published in the sports category. I’ve never made a single purchase because of that email newsletter.

What I’d love to see, and something that’s more likely to drive conversion, is a service that gives me access to super-sized samples and other behind-the-scenes information about interesting new (and old!) sports ebooks. The service should surprise and delight me. Make me want to come back to this site/app by tossing in unexpected and unannounced deals, including ones that might only be available to me.

I’m simply looking for a better path to go from free content to paid content. Give me access to more content than I can get from a limited sample. Bring the authors into the mix and give them a voice at the table. Make them readily available for Google Hangouts and other ways of engaging with the audience.

Content distributed via this service should be completely free of walled gardens. The material must be available for download into whatever reading app the customer chooses. There should be buy buttons at the end of the super-sized sample and they should be offered for all retailers, including the publisher’s own website.

Don’t forget the data opportunity here. An opt-in could enable user data to flow back to the publishers (e.g., page views, popular titles, sample downloads, purchases, etc.). 

A well-designed service like this would have to be developed independent of the retailers; otherwise it simply becomes another extension of their walled gardens. It would also greatly expand the reach and success of plenty of ebooks.

In order for this to succeed, publishers (and authors) must be willing to make more of their precious content available for free. They’ll eventually face the same dilemma Evernote faces every day, but I’d argue that’s a problem every book publisher should embrace.

Debunking the discovery problem

Ever since ebooks gained traction the publishing industry has obsessed with what’s typically referred to as “the discovery problem.” The common wisdom is that discovery of the content will lead to fame and fortune.

What's next, now that ebook sales are flattening? Join me at a free webinar on April 28 to see how to drive revenue growth. Click here to register.

I believe digital content’s main challenge is more about efficiency, less about discovery, and my inspiration for this point of view comes from a totally unrelated business: the coffee industry.

A recent Businessweek article noted that single-serve pods (e.g., Keurig) have eliminated coffee’s biggest consumer: the kitchen sink. (Btw, Businessweek apparently doesn’t worry about content discovery as that article can’t be found on their website; it’s only in the print edition but I found a related version of it here.)

It turns out that with Mr. Coffee and other drip systems a great deal of product ends up going to waste. The net result is that as the single-serve devices gain momentum we’re creating a climate where total consumption is lower and excess inventories are leading to lower prices for coffee beans.

In short, the article notes that while Americans still drink a lot of coffee, they do it more efficiently. Each cup in the single-serve model is more expensive but in total we’re consuming and wasting far less coffee now.

What in the world does this have to do with digital content?

I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we have an excessive amount digital content today. A great deal of it is being produced but in many cases nobody is reading it. This has led to an overabundance of free and cheap content which is being both professionally published as well as self-published.

Wasted coffee goes down the drain but wasted content simply goes unread. In some cases, hoarders like myself have moved the content from online to local devices, but much of that content is never actually consumed.

Here’s a parallel from yet another completely unrelated industry: service provider recommendations. My wife and I recently cancelled our Angie’s List subscription because we discovered the Nextdoor social network. As you may already know, Angie’s List is battling allegations of fraudulent and deceptive practices and its reviews are typically posted by complete strangers. Meanwhile, Nextdoor offers reviews and advice from people you know or could easily introduce yourself to: your next-door neighbors. I’ve found these local reviews on Nextdoor to be much more reliable. In fact, I’ve hired two service providers in the past week based on Nextdoor recommendations. Best of all, Nextdoor is totally free.

Compared to Angie’s List, Nextdoor feels like a more highly curated and relevant service. Discussions and recommendations come from people you might already know and everyone lives right there in your neighborhood. In fact, many of Nextdoor’s members are going through the same situations you are (e.g., hail storm, wind damage, down trees, etc.)

Nextdoor offers what I refer to as a better “content efficiency” experience than Angie’s List. It’s what I’m looking for and the content is presented when I need it.

Just as nobody walks into a bookstore asking for the latest book from Macmillan, nobody is sitting around saying, “gee, I wish I could discover more content.” What we really need is more efficient delivery of content that’s highly relevant to our specific needs and interests. 

We’ve mostly given up on RSS feeds and let’s face it…Twitter is yet another fire hose that’s next to impossible to effectively manage.

At some point content efficiency will improve. I’ve referred to this before as the need for a “content concierge”, resulting in much better recommendations, tailored content streams and, yes, it will come at a higher price, just like the single-serving coffee pods.

We may end up spending just as much time reading efficiently delivered content but it will be highly targeted and we’ll pay more for the privilege of others (human curators and well-tuned, automated algorithms) helping us find the precious needles in the overwhelming haystacks.

Lessons from one publisher’s aversion to ebooks

I recently did something that I haven’t done for more than five years: I bought a physical, print edition of a book. For myself. I didn’t want to, but I had to. The publisher made me do it. The story behind my purchase offers lessons for all book publishers, but especially those who have yet to embrace the ebook market.

I’m a huge baseball fan and when I heard that Hal McCoy, a legendary sportswriter, recently published a book about his career covering the Reds, well, I had to have it. If you take a quick look at that link to the book on the publisher’s website you’ll see they only sell a print edition there. A quick look on Amazon shows that print is the only option online as well.

What's next, now that ebook sales are flattening? Join me at a free webinar on April 28 to see how to drive revenue growth. Click here to register.

That made me stop and double-check the pub date. It’s 2015, after all, and surely every publisher offers e-editions of their frontlist, right? I’ve apparently stumbled across one of the remaining publishers who is still stuck in the 1990’s. 

Not to worry… I figured I’d just run out to one of the many local brick-and-mortar stores and buy a copy there. No dice. There’s not a single copy of this book to be found at any of the local stores.

Amazon offers it at 21% off the publisher’s list price though, and since I’m a Prime member I’ll get it in a couple of days. So here we have a small boutique publisher who is contributing to their own market limitations. In this world of digital abundance they prefer to live in the era of physical scarcity.

Why print-only? It’s hard to assume they haven’t found a viable way to quickly, easily and inexpensively create EPUBs and mobi files. Not only are there a variety of simple tools for this but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of outsource providers willing to do it for a song.

Is it fear of cannibalization? Perhaps. But is that such a bad thing? I’d argue in this case that the number of potential customers who aren’t buying the print edition because it’s not available far outweighs the number of customers who might opt for a cheaper e-version over of print.

Here’s a radical idea: Charge 50% more for the e-edition. So that $19.99 print book lists for $29.99 as an ebook. Even after Amazon applies their consumer discount the publisher still makes more than they do on any print copy sale. Btw, I paid almost $16 for the print edition through Amazon but I would have gladly paid $29.99 for an e-edition, if only they’d offer one.

The publisher wouldn’t have to stick with a permanent digital list price that’s 150% of the print list. Maybe they could just have it set that high for the first 30 or 60 days, for example. The key is to measure the results, see what can be learned from the combination of print and digital sales and adjust accordingly.

Here’s another radical idea: Sell the ebook direct exclusively for 30 or 60 days. After that initial period offer it through all  theother ebook channels. (Yes, I realize this means the publisher has to renegotiate terms with distributors.)

As a consumer I admit that I’m not a fan of paying more or having to go through some crazy DRM process on a publisher’s website when I buy direct. But in this case I’d be willing to live with both of those situations.

At the very least, how about this?: Offer me an e-sample on the publisher’s site so I can start reading the book while I wait for the print copy to arrive. And please don’t lock that sample…make it easy to copy and send to others; after all, it’s a marketing tool for the publisher and the author.

Why Oyster now sells ebooks too

Oyster started as an all-you-can-read ebook subscription service but they recently decided to expand their reach by selling individual ebooks as well. There’s been plenty of speculation on why they made this move, including catching up to competitors like Scribd and Amazon. While the competitive point is valid, I think there are two more important reasons for this move: sustainability and customer loyalty.

What's next, now that ebook sales are flattening? Join me at a free webinar on April 28 to see how to drive revenue growth. Click here to register.

Regarding sustainability, Oyster’s business model is a tricky one. Even though Oyster only earns $9.95/month from a subscriber they’re undoubtedly paying publishers more than $9.95 each month for certain subscribers. It all depends on how many books that subscriber reads in the month.

A subscriber doesn’t have to read the entire book for a publisher payout to occur, by the way. Each publisher has negotiated a percentage threshold, so once a subscriber reads past that agreed-to point in the book Oyster pays the publisher as if the entire book was read. In short, some (and perhaps many) subscribers are triggering full publisher payouts for partially read books.

That sounds like a great way to build a large subscriber base but if you’re losing money on many of them it’s hard to make it up in volume. This is precisely why Oyster needed to diversify their business model. They already have the platform, the reading application and they’re building a nice brand. All they had to do was add the option to buy rather than subscribe. It’s also a smart way to add more recent and popular publications to their offering, which tends to be pretty shallow in many subject areas.

The other enormous challenge I see for these all-you-can-read subscriptions is customer loyalty. Since I never own the content I’m reading, and one service’s library starts to look same as all the others, there’s no reason for me to stick with any one provider. The service with the lowest price and other gimmicks eventually becomes the winner. That’s not exactly an attractive long-term strategy.

But if I’ve built a library of books I actually own on that platform it starts to look more like the walled garden Amazon built. Once you’ve bought a lot of Kindle editions it’s hard to think about moving to another ebook platform. That’s undoubtedly what Oyster hopes to do by adding the purchase option to their service.

Will it make a difference? Perhaps, but the biggest threat to Oyster and Scribd is, of course, Amazon. Fortunately for Oyster and Scribd, Amazon is now much more focused on drones all the other non-book consumer product areas. That’s enabled Oyster and Scribd to build some buzz and momentum. The problem is that if someone at Amazon decides to make subscriptions more of a priority both of these little guys are extremely vulnerable. It’s just too easy for consumers to switch to Amazon and gain all the other benefits an ebook-only service simply can’t offer.