Clicking the subscribe button

Why ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Content Subscriptions Will Struggle

In posts written earlier this week, I alluded to a couple of ways that publishers might reframe the value of subscription services:

  • As an opportunity to receive payment for access that otherwise would not have occurred or could not have been cost-effectively monetized; and
  • As a way to offer access to content in markets where the price points are high enough relative to income to encourage a piracy alternative.

In “Amazon will probably dominate books by subscription” (more on that in a moment), a Businessweek article from January, Joshua Brustein points out that most people buy fewer than six books a year, adding  “the economics of subscriptions arguably make a lot more sense for music than they do for books.”  

I think he’s right, but not because people don’t buy enough book content. In November 2012 I noted:

Applied to the book business, part of the challenge with subscription models starts with publishers themselves. Most eBooks are wrapped in DRM that restricts use and effectively makes them something you don’t own, but rather license. To a reader, there’s little difference between a purchased book with DRM and one obtained using a subscription service.

This is the reason that “all you can eat” models will struggle: they can’t find enough daylight between their offer and what you get from a proprietary platform. Layer in options like Amazon Prime, which provides its members free access to a cross-section of titles, and the gap narrows even more.

Although the Businessweek post puts Amazon in the title, only the closing paragraph addresses the retailer’s position. The bulk of the article considers Oyster and Scribd, a narrow set, but that’s the way these stories get written.

As it happens, the URL for the story (“New subscription model for eBooks challenges traditional publishers”) is a more accurate summary of Brustein’s work. He just stopped short of fully exploring why these models are a challenge.

An additional note: I know this post is the third one this week to touch upon subscription access. I promise I won’t be flogging the topic as we approach BookExpo next month.

I tend to write about a fairly wide range of publishing-related topics, and I’ve been trying to group posts about a given topic (subscriptions, workflow, piracy, disruption, etc.) within a week or two. I want to see if I might deepen my analysis without making any given post unduly long.

If the source material allows, I may write a bit more about subscriptions before hosting the panel. I’ll try not to make this blog a walking promotion for the conference.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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