The other day, I suggested that the key to competing with Amazon might be not to be just another e-book store, but to offer something you just couldn’t find on Amazon. It’s possible I may have been prescient, because Scribd has just now done exactly that. Scribd has just let us know that it’s substantially expanding the offerings available under its e-book subscription service to cover some additional forms of digital media.
For starters, Scribd is adding sheet music to its subscription service, starting off with over 2,600 different selections from a variety of genres, instruments, and difficulty levels. The music can be browsed from Scribd’s site, and includes titles like “Fearless” by Taylor Swift, “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay, and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles.
Scribd is also adding thousands of titles from academic publisher Elsevier to its reference section, with titles like Handbook of Digital Currency, Understanding Your Users, and Tethered Money. In the first quarter of 2016, Scribd will also be adding titles from the seminal children’s show Sesame Street to its available children’s books. All this content will come under the umbrella of the $8.99 per month subscription plan that Scribd offers now.
Co-founder and CEO Trip Adler states, “We are excited to bring even more value to our subscribers and to connect them with many different types of books while helping publishers reach new audiences. Each new partner validates our belief in the longevity of the subscription model, and we look forward to continuing to offer the most diverse selection of content to our readers.”
Be that as it may, it’s not hard to see this as an attempt to retain some relevance in the face of Amazon’s success with its Kindle Unlimited program. Scribd launched its subscription program in October 2013, nine months before Amazon came out with Kindle Unlimited—but Kindle Unlimited has the advantage of being associated with Amazon, where the majority of American customers already buy their e-books anyway. That sort of thing is pretty much what Amazon does—when someone else innovates, Amazon keeps an eye out and imitates, and being the 800-lb gorilla of the e-book industry does a lot to make up for not always being the first mover on an idea.
Scribd also ran into the double whammy of being too attractive to voracious media consumers earlier this year, when it had to pare down both its romance and erotica titles and its audiobook titles dramatically. While it’s easy to understand how that might have stemmed revenue bleed from unusually voracious segments of its customer base, at the same time it can’t have made it very popular with those segments of its customer base.
The problem with chopping out so much popular material is that it’s hard to see how sheet music or science books will make up for it. Romance novels and audiobook listeners are pretty well-known for liking to read or listen to a lot of the things that they like. I don’t know too many voracious sheet music or science book readers, and while Sesame Street e-books will undoubtedly be attractive to the parents of small children, I don’t think they’ll be that attractive.
Still, I think a behemoth like Amazon needs all the effective competition it can get, because we consumers get better deals when the big guys have to stay on their toes. So I hope this does turn out to be a successful-enough move on Scribd’s part to let it grow its subscriptions and stay in business.