And speaking of cloud-based subscription models for e-reading, Publishing Perspectives has another company-founder-written column. Justo Hidalgo, co-founder of 24Symbols (which we covered here and here), writes about the cloud-based subscription model of his company and how he believes it can turn pirates into paying customers.

Hidalgo points out that the music and movie industries have shown that trying to fight piracy is a fairly futile, and that pirates are usually dedicated fans who want more control over the way they consume their media. (Which makes sense, really—why would you pirate something you didn’t want?) He thinks that publishers should be trying to engage with pirates and find a way to turn their reluctance to buy traditional media into a way to profit from less traditional models.

He brings up European service Spotify, which just launched in the US, as an example of a fee-based service that provides an alternative to piracy for which former-pirates are willing to pay subscription fees. He proposes a similar model for e-books:

Instead of taking the burden of finding a good copy of this book in several peer-to-peer systems or cyberlockers, a service offering “one-click read” options to readers would entice many of them willing to pay a subscription fee. The thinking at 24symbols is exactly that: Why pirate a book when you can read it with just one click?

Hidalgo addresses fears that such a service might cannibalize the sale of printed books by suggesting that it will increase sales overall even if some of those users might opt for e-books rather than print. After all, a pirate isn’t going to buy the printed book anyway. He also notes that such a service makes it easier to incorporate social networking features and reach more readers through “viral buzz”, and could also make out-of-print books economically viable to digitize. It also opens the door to a wide variety of potential digital uses that we might not even be able to imagine yet.

I have to admit: if there was some kind of a “Spotify for e-books” that had a decent selection at a decent price and worked with all my devices, I would be seriously tempted. Granted, it would mean not “owning” the books I read, but that’s true for any library, and plenty of people are happy to pay a monthly fee for Netflix without “owning” the movies they rent.

The question is whether such a service will come to exist any time soon, given how tight-fisted publishers are on e-book pricing at the moment. 24Symbols sounds like an interesting idea, but is it going to have participation from “big six” publishers? I’m as fond of self-publishing as the next guy, but if I’m going to pay a monthly fee for something I want to know for sure it has content I’ll want to read.