24 Symbols co-founder explains why publishers should consider an e-book subscription service

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.

2 Comments on 24 Symbols co-founder explains why publishers should consider an e-book subscription service

  1. As the owner of a thriving blog devoted to electronic books and ereaders I disagree with you that 24Symbols will need the support of the so-called “big-six publishers” to prosper. As self-publishing goes mainstream all major publishers are becoming increasingly more irrelevant and facing intense competition from third-party organizations whose sole purpose is to help authors promote their creative works and the digital ecosphere. I for one have not read a book published by the big six in well over a year now and this is primarily because of self published e-books. HarperCollins’s recent decision to limit the number of times an e-book could be lent through e-book library systems ensured that I will never read another one of their books until they change this misguided attempts to protect an outdated business model that no longer makes sense in the digital age. I am a heavy reader. I read on average about eight books a month. As you can see from the information provided in that demographic in the past 12 months I’ve read 96 books that the big six publishers received no money from whatsoever. If the big six publishers were to form an literary subscription service similar to Netflix and charge a reasonable fee of around $10 a month I would probably subscribe to it. Of course it would have to include any of the self published authors who wanted to put their works on the site because I find that the larger a publisher becomes, the more conservative the works are that they release. That conservatism prevents well read readers such as myself from finding much of interest in their catalog of content. Self published authors have a well of creativity that many in the publishing industry have overlooked in the pursuit of ever larger profit based on old business model that fails to provide the same income as it did before the digital age exited its childhood. My blog talks about these subjects and a lot more will be of interest to authors, publishers, and of course readers. Come on over and take a look, I’m sure you’ll find something you enjoy. http://electronicbook-readers.com/

  2. Steven Lyle Jordan // July 20, 2011 at 9:12 am //

    Hidalgo’s post seems sensible on the surface… but one of the mistakes he’s making is to assume pirates are “sensible.” Pirates take because they can, and think it’s cool to do so… trying to “engage” them is a lot like encouraging a great white shark to eat you: If you’re in the water, you’re already shark food, doofus. I agree with engaging legitimate customers and trying to satisfy them… I do everything I can to that end, right now. But pirates have already proven to be the kind of literature “fans” that stab their favorite authors in the back. I see no reason to “engage” back-stabbers.

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