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Ebooks have come a long way since 2009. Ebook readers are substantially less expensive. There are purportedly 40 million digital readers out in the wild not counting the apps that are downloaded to iThing and Android devices constantly. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are selling more digital books than paper books. The rise of self published books priced at $.99 are causing some in publishing to believe that the low priced entrants are causing downward pressure on prices. Because of piracy concerns, many publishers are locking down their books with DRM and only licensing the books to readers for a unspecified term of use.

As readers of digital books, first sale rights such as resale, lend, trade are eliminated, also driving value down. In other areas of entertainment, subscription access is rising. Pandora and Spotify in music and Netflix and Hulu in movies are offering streams of content for a monthly fee. Can books really withstand this type of consumer demand? Google was going to offer institutional subscriptions if the settlement got approval.

Subscriptions bring up a couple of issues. First, what would be included in the subscription. Second, how would you access those books? Third, what would be the cost. (This only examines the consumer side of this. The author/royalty side of this is a whole other mess).

Someone in publishing suggested that Overdrive has the mechanism in place to provide subscription access (particularly now that it has a partnership with Amazon). Overdrive could allow you access for a certain fee under certain circumstances. Perhaps this is a way to monetize library access. My library system has a fast access checkout. For $1 or more you can pay to bypass the wait lines and check out the popular books right away. I liken it to the Disney World Fast Pass. A library subscription servcie that would allow you access to all its titles for a fee

Of course, the devil is in the details. Pandora and Spotify allow you access to millions of songs, including all of the latest hits. Pandora is free with ads or $36 a year. Pandora has some restrictions. It cannot play the song you want at the time you want. It cannot play more than four songs by a particular artist in a three hour period. Some artists restrict the playtime of their music to even fewer than four songs per three hours. You cannot rewind or replay any song and you cannot download or cache any music. You must have an active internet connection.

Netflix allows unlimited streaming access but the subset of DVDs available for streaming is much smaller than its entire DVD library. For those who want access to Blue Ray DVDs, you have to pay more. Further, like the Pandora limitations, you don’t get to decide which movies you want to stream. Instead you get a selection. Fortunately, Netflix and Pandora have made their applications available on a variety devices but unlimited access is not without its restrictions and well, limitations.

One would assume that any such subscription like service for books would have similar limitations. It is the limitations and restrictions that encourage out right sales.

I thought that Harlequin might be uniquely suited to offer up subscription access. It has probably 20,000 books digitized and they are constantly adding more. What would you pay to have access to the entire database, knowing that you are only getting access and that should Harlequin decide to shut down its subscription service you would no longer have access? Right now I pay around $25 for my Harlequin Presents subscription wherein I get 8 Harlequin Presents books a month. I would easily pay $25 per month for access to the entire Harlequin category database.

Others, however, have no interest in a one publisher only database (particularly one filled with category books). I don’t see unfettered access to every book published coming anytime soon, if ever, but I certainly believe that a Netflix or Hulu Plus or Pandora will exist for books.

Is that something you would be interested in and if so, what parameters are you looking for in terms of what is included, how you would access your subscription, and what would be the cost you were willing to pay.

Editor’s Note: Via Dear Author.  Jane has a poll on her site about subscriptions.  Please go over that add your data.  PB


  1. Subscriptions for older Harlequin novels would be a legal nightmare unless the Harlequin contract already specifies allowing subscriptions.

    If a service like this started without each author signing on, all heck will break loose as author organizations and the major authors call out the lawyers.

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