Person laying on a hammock, reading an eBook.

Can Subscription Models Grow Market Size? The Debate Is On.

Earlier today, I moderated a panel (“Demystifying subscription models”) that was offered as part of BookExpo America’s education program. Last month, I posted a bit of background about the panel, which included Andrew Savikas (Safari Books Online), Justo Hidalgo (24symbols) and Richard Nash (Byliner).

Part of the discussion addressed a persistent, to my ear under-explored aspect of the debate about subscription models. All three panelists talked about the ways that their services potentially grew overall demand for paid content, by offering:

  • access to a deeper selection of niche content (Safari Books);
  • an opportunity to cost-effectively reach untapped markets (both 24symbols and Safari Books); and
  • a serendipitous way to find and read content in smaller time intervals (Byliner).

The under-explored aspect is this: subscription models potentially can grow the size of the market. The debate is important. If we don’t believe this opportunity to be real, we’ll negotiate to slow the adoption of access-based business models, because in practice we’ll see the new option as something that cannibalizes prevailing channels.

There’s little proof on either side of the debate, although Safari Books has been growing its content breath and revenue for more than a decade. Still, single data points do not make a trend.

In preparing for the panel, I came across a UNESCO study, “Reading in the mobile era”, that offered the first reasonably comprehensive study of mobile reading in developing countries. It is a significant document – almost 90 pages – that deserves its own post. I promise I will do one soon.

In the meantime, I’ll point to a simple point made on page 76 of the report:

Expanding the amount of local-language text accessible through mobile phones could enlarge readership worldwide and help address the global literacy crisis.

The efficacy of new ideas depends in part on what we choose to believe. Expanding demand for texts on mobile devices seems like one of those things that is worth test-driving.

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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