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Will we ever see a "Spotify for ebooks"?

My music buying habits have definitely changed over the years. I'm doing a lot more streaming now and rarely buying individual tracks or albums. I use Spotify but I also started using Rdio. I'm still in the free trial period for the latter and not sure which, if either, I'll end up paying for.

One question that seems to keep popping up in the ebook publishing world is, "when will a Spotify for ebooks emerge?" You could argue that a few services already offer unlimited access to free ebook content. Those services are, of course, limited in their breadth. You won't find any offering all the latest bestsellers, for example, but Spotify and other streaming music services let you listen to plenty of hits.

You could also say that Amazon already has something like this with their Kindle Owners' Lending Library program (KOLL). This service lets Amazon Prime members borrow from hundreds of thousands of ebooks with no due dates. And it's all included in the $79 annual Prime membership fee, so it's almost like a free program, assuming you joined Prime for other reasons.

I'm not convinced KOLL is the answer though. It's basically a throw-in, or an afterthought, to the Prime membership program. And while 300K+ titles is huge, I don't believe the successful "Spotify for ebooks" will focus on breadth of content; I think it will be more about narrow focus and depth of content.

I don't have much interest in an all-you-can-read ebook subscription model with a million titles, especially if it doesn't have the depth I prefer. I'll pay more for vertical subscriptions that offer me more depth. Sports and history are two of my favorite topics. Rather than paying $15/month for a broad catalog with limited depth in those two areas, I'd prefer to pay $10/month each, or $20/month total, for two separate vertical subscriptions with more titles that are likely to match my interests.

This is the type of discussion we'll have at our free webcast on Friday, April 26 at 1PM ET. The webcast is called Why the Ebook Subscription Model Might Be Right for Your Content and features Safari CEO Andrew Savikas. Be sure to register now as slots are filling up quickly. Also, attendees will be able to ask questions during the webcast but if you've got any you'd like me to put on the top of the list for Andrew please email them to me.


Aaron Pressman

Joe, there have been some widely publicized complaints from musicians about the low royalty rate they receive on streams from Spotify etc versus higher rates they collect on digital and physical sales. It's led some to even question whether the streaming music business model is sustainable. What do you expect regarding royalties on an ebook all-you-can-eat service?

Joe Wikert

Excellent question, Aaron. I can't speak for the Spotify model but I can tell you this is an important consideration for Safari Books Online. I also believe publishers and authors need to consider all the math involved in these calculations. Being part of a subscription model, especially a pay-for-performance one like Safari, means you're likely reaching a much broader audience than you would by not participating. And even though this typically means micro-payments, the number of impressions created by this additional reach adds up, and so does the royalty payment. At the end of the day though, if IP owners don't feel they're getting enough revenue from this model they'll abandon it, so its very existence depends on creating a meaningful revenue stream for publishers and authors.


There already is a Spotify for books. It's called 24Symbols.

It's still mainly limited to Spain, yes, but it is growing.

Joe Wikert

Nate, I'm well aware of 24Symbols. Do they meet the criteria I outlined above where they're offering access to all the bestsellers? I don't believe that's the case. As long as these services have very limited catalogs they won't come close to reaching their full potential.

Timo Boezeman

Why would there be a Spotify for Books with an enormous collection of titles, but without the ability to browse in depth? That just would be a wrong business model. Spotify has millions of songs, and you can browse it in almost every way you imagine. When we talk about a Spotify for books, this would also be one of the first priorities. For me this is not really the discussion. If it will be as you suggest (a lot of titles, no depth), then there it has no chance of success. But what if it has both?

Joe Wikert

Great question, Timo. It's just my opinion but I think a genre-specific approach is best for everyone. Yes, a service with both breadth and depth is an option, but I worry that the reading and browsing habits of subscribers would be so scattered that the income for any one genre, let alone book/author, would be tiny. Perhaps that's one of the reasons artists have been so outspoken against the revenue model for services like Spotify. Plus, by going vertical there's an opportunity for the provider to really focus on, and service, that particular community with other products. Could that too be done in a much larger, full breadth and depth service? Yes, but I believe the quality of the community engagement would be far better in a genre-specific model.

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