scribd logo subscription servicesFile this under “We had to know this was coming.”

Susan’s already covered the main points of this story, but as the resident Scribd fan, I felt like I had to say something. As much as I love the service, I have been concerned all along about the sustainability of their business model. The recent announcement confirms the concern is justified.

Last year, I was reading reviews of Scribd on various romance sites and all of them said basically the same thing: “All you can read romance? Sign me up!” I’ve always been curious about the percentage of Scribd subscribers who signed up primarily for the romance. My rough guess has always been 50% or more, which, if I’m right, explains the problem.

The Scribd model only works for Scribd if subscribers limit their reading, which kind of defeats the purpose of the model for readers. I’m disappointed but not surprised by the announcement. As I’m not a heavy romance reader, it doesn’t affect me personally, but I understand why readers and authors are angry. Lots of subscribers have been announcing that they will or have unsubscribed. (I haven’t, by the way.) It is ironic that the probable majority of readers who are unsubscribing (romance readers) are the ones which were causing Scribd to lose money. No, I’m not saying that was their intent. Just commenting on the irony.

We’ll see what the future holds for Scribd and other subscription services. I think they are ultimately the wave of the future, but I’m not sure we’ve seen anything close to a final form yet. While Kindle Unlimited is likely to be more sustainable, I’m not convinced it’s the final answer either.

Maybe I’m just overly optimistic, but I do think Scribd and Oyster will figure something out and remain in the subscription business, just perhaps not in the same fashion as they are operating today. I plan to keep my subscription as long as it’s valuable to me and available.


  1. The trick about these subscription services is that they only work as long as most people aren’t actually getting their money’s worth out of them, but don’t necessarily know it. When you run into a situation where a significant number of subscribers are getting considerably more than their money’s worth, something is going to have to give sooner or later.

  2. I think you’re overly optimistic that they’ll find a solution that works before they are bled try. I always wondered how they would sustain their current model but what percentage of subscribers have they lost in the 24 hours that will never return?

    What about the authors where they now have only some volumes of a series in Scribd?

    Do you have any ideas that might be practical for this model? I admit to being stumped especially after treating their customers and suppliers in such a shabby manner.

    I say all this not being a subscriber nor a romance reader so maybe I’m missing something. I have decided reading on apps is not for me and my favorite subscription service is an out of state membership with I have been able to find every book I have looked for there when I can’t find it available at my local library. $50 a year and I can read on e-ink. That works for me.

    • @Anne, I’ve been accused of excessive optimism in the past, so this is hardly the first time. 🙂

      I agree that leaving authors with incomplete series is a bad idea. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that it’s a database management thing. Scribd has had that problem in the past when implementing new things. However, they should communicate that, to the distributors if to no one else.

      No, I don’t have any great ideas on a model which would work, and if I did, I’d probably try to find VC funding and start it. (Not serious. I’ve no interest in being owner of a start up right now.) I wish I knew exactly how the Netflix funding model works. There must be a good reason that model doesn’t apply to books or I’m guessing it would have been tried.

  3. All you can eat buffets are a gamble. The provider is betting you won’t get your money’s worth and you are betting you will get more than your money’s worth. It sets up a conflict between the two sides that generally ends badly. Bankruptcy for the restaurant and indigestion for you.

  4. Netflix was able to use an existing model, TV syndication contracts. Typically, a TV network licenses reruns of old shows and movies by buying the right to air them an unlimited number of times in a month or year for a flat fee. Having the syndication system in place made it easy for Netflix to negotiate a similar deal.

  5. @Juli, I’ve never been accused of excessive optimism so that is why I was asking. Like you, I’m curious about the Netflix model.

    My only thoughts there is that the hot, new videos are on some kind of tiered licensing with set time limits to Netflix and the “backlist” is batched into a rotating pool of content from each provider with extra paid for exclusivity. Maybe every time they come up with a hit such as House of Cards and the like or pay for exclusivity, they see a big influx in subscribers? Again, I’m just speculating but maybe rotating stock is the hook. You join for one thing and stay for the next thing even if you don’t know what that might be?

    I just might not use these services enough to think it through properly. There is only so much time so Acorn is my only video subscription service though I also use Amazon Instant Video.

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