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Ebook subscription services as publisher affiliates

I was at an event last week where an attendee described the following scenario: She discovered an author on the Oyster unlimited ebook subscription service, she read one of their books and then realized the author’s other books aren’t included in Oyster. She was then forced to buy the author’s next ebook somewhere else. The end result is the publisher still has no relationship with the reader and Oyster earns nothing from the sale of that next book.

We’re going to see more and more of this as publishers dip their toes in the ebook subscription waters, adding portions of their list but not their entire catalog.

This is a significant missed opportunity for the publisher...and the subscription provider (Oyster).

Here’s how the publisher and subscription provider can alter the model and both come out ahead: The subscription provider becomes a publisher affiliate, leading these interested and engaged readers to the publisher’s site where they then purchase that next book that’s not in the subscription plan. Maybe the publisher even sweetens the deal, giving the reader a special discount for being an Oyster subscriber. This requires the publisher and Oyster (or Scribd, for that matter) agree on affiliate terms, but wouldn’t they both prefer this sales model vs. losing that reader to some other retailer?

The publisher could take this a step further and have the purchased book placed in the subscription provider’s reader application. So now when I use my Oyster app I’m sometimes reading books rented through my subscription, and other times I’m reading books I own. The beauty here is that I’m using the same application in both situations so I don’t have to remember the idiosyncrasies of multiple apps.

If I was still a book publisher this is something I’d pursue immediately. The subscription model is here to stay and the startups in this space could use some help to stay afloat and not get crushed by the 800-pound gorilla.

For the sake of competition and keeping the dominant player honest, let’s hope Oyster and Scribd extend their services by implementing something like this.


Michael W. Perry

The ebook retailers and subscription services share more than a little of the blame for this spotty distribution. Being forced to upload ebooks to each distribution channel, including dealing with different standards and filling out publication data, is such a pain it's all to easy for authors and publishers to say, "Why bother? The income won't justify the trouble."

Ten years ago, publishing POD was easy. I uploaded a cover and an interior file to Lightning Source and a couple of week later the book was available almost everywhere books are available. Today I have to send print files to Lightning Source and CreateSpace, each of which requires a different cover. I have to send one type of ebook file to Amazon, another to Apple, and yet a third to Smashwords. What used to take an hour now takes an entire day—if I'm lucky and there are no glitches.

Until digital publishing has distribution that's as efficient and effective as Ingram offered, ebook publisher will remain spotty and hit-or-miss.

It's so bad, for a series of ebooks I'm working on now, I'm tempted to just send them to the iBookstore and leave it at that. I format them with InDesign and can create an iBookstore version in reflowable or fixed layout epub in under a minute. Because Amazon refuses to update their plug-in for InDesign or help Adobe develop one in house, creating a Kindle version is a giant nuisance. I don't work for Amazon and can't see why I should spend my time simply because Amazon is too perverse to support industry standards such as InDesign or epub.

Authors can reach some subscription services through Smashwords, but as a channel that's limited by the love affair Smashwords has with Word for Windows as The Way to publish. It's support of epub is spotty.

Subscription services are themselves another hassle. Were I the head of Oyster or Scribd, I'd quit trying so hard to attract authors and publishers direct to me. I'd support the creation of an Ingram-like entity for subscription ebooks. Without paying any fees, authors and publishers could release their books through it and it'd take care of the distribution. Authors and publishers would benefit from the simplicity. Subscription services wouldn't have to get the attention of each individual author and publisher, one at a time. They'd be able to offer more books with less hassle for themselves.

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