Wednesday, July 01, 2015

You Read Too Much

It sounded almost too good to be true when it was first introduced. Imagine paying a flat monthly fee, something quite affordable, and then being able to read as much as you liked.

What could be better? Read three or four e-books a week, and not have to pay for each title? Read hundreds of books a year, fulfill your cravings for delicious words, and still have money left to pay the electric bill. And so Scribd found a willing audience to buy into the notion of subscription e-books.

The problem is, dear romance reader, that you read too much.

Scribd may be good in theory, but in practice, the romance readers are killing it.

Romance readers are voracious. They go through one e-book after another, reading and reading until you'd think their eyes would fall out of their heads but they just go and read another book.

The subscription fees, however, don't cover Scribd's costs to acquire those books. Publishers aren't giving things away for free very much, and if they can sell one hundred books to those voracious romance readers, they have no desire to make less by selling at a steep discount to Scribd because Scribd has this business model it wishes to maintain.

You read too much, you romance fancier. Scribd has just culled the most money-losing part of their business and removed a huge quantity of romance titles. They've axed erotica as well, which is understandable. Those titles are a few short words of graphic porn and it doesn't take long to read one of them. A particularly sex-obsessed individual could easily manage one a day, or more if they have a quick recovery period. When you have unlimited porn catering to every fetish, you may go a bit overboard and stuff your head with filth because, well, it's there for the taking.

In the short term, Scribd will see a drop in expenses as the romance readers find that what they want is not to be had via Scribd. The lending will drop and the publishers won't be owed quite so much.

And then?

Then the avid romance readers cancel their subscriptions and use their eight euros (more or less) to buy fewer titles from suppliers like Smashwords, which was providing much of Scribd's romance content.

Scribd will then take in less money, even while shelling out less. The question to be answered will then become, is the business model viable at the current price? Without the voracious romance readers signing up, who would replace that large population? Can there be enough non-romance fanatics to support a smaller catalogue if those readers are more selective and don't read as much?

One can theorize all day, and cost accountants can make all sorts of calculations and projections. Only time and experience will tell, but while waiting for that time to generate the experience, Scribd will continue to burn through investor money. Investors are not known to wait forever. Scribd hangs in the balance, an experiment undergoing some adjustments as test results come in.

But is it on life support, or can it recover?

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