The ebook subscription model seems to have hit a bump. According to Smashwords’ Mark Coker, Scribd is cutting its romance and erotica catalog.
Effective immediately, I estimate 80-90 percent of Smashwords romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including nearly all of our most popular romance titles. Books priced at free are safe and will remain in their catalog.
The reason? Romance and erotica readers are devouring these titles, and Scribd pays retailer-level margins for books. It seems Scribd cannot currently sustain this model since it has to pay authors when books are read.
Scribd stated in a letter than the site has grown from 100,000 books to one million, and it is now looking for long-term solutions.
The cutting of these titles is not just affecting Smashwords, but across several publishers as written by Bob Mayer who received a similar letter from Draft2Digital.
As companies adjust based on new data and information it receives, there are going to be some casualties. Seemingly, one of the first in the subscription model business is romance writers and readers.
The ebook subscription model is one that has been questioned since its inception with many offering differing opinions. There was always going to be the problem of what happens if people read something too much – and now we are here. It’s good to know that romance authors have a rabid fan base, but it doesn’t seem as though they are the people that are welcomed.
Subscription services should pay authors based on number of subscribers, like cable TV, not per read.
Which wouldn’t really work because it wouldn’t reflect actual usage (some people whose works weren’t read at all would get paid, while some people whose works were read lots wouldn’t get paid enough), and it would also mean that everybody involved would get a pittance—not enough to be worth keeping their books in the program.
There is a payment formula that works for all-you-can-read services even when some readers are very busy. The author of a book would receive a payment each time his or her book was read, but the payment would vary.
At Scribd a subscriber/reader pays $8.99 per month (I think). A percentage would be subtracted immediately to support the overhead/profit of the service (say $0.99). The remaining money would be split based on the total number of books read by the reader.
For example, if an individual subscriber reads 8 books in a month then the $8.00 would be split so that each book author received $1.00.
If an individual subscriber reads 16 books in a month then the $8.00 would be split so that each book author received $0.50.
(In a more sophisticated system the money would be split based on the number pages that the subscriber reads.)
Almost any system that provides authors with a fixed payment each time a book is read by a subscriber can be exploited/scammed. A single reader can pretend to read tens/hundreds/thousands of books per month. A computer program can be created that will automate the process of checking out books and turning pages.
Why would a pseudo-reader want to pretend to read a large number of books? The goal is to receive pre-arranged kickback payments from the authors. The kickback payment for checking out a book would be, say, half the money that the author receives. In fact, the pseudo-reader and the pseudo-authors can be the same person using identity manipulation tricks.
A simpler technique would be based on a clique of authors. Every month each member of the clique would agree to read all the books written by every other member of the clique.
The technique of splitting payments mentioned above is designed to minimize the damage caused by these scammer strategies. An individual subscriber would only control the allocation of the money he or she paid each month.