Tag Archives: Oyster

Despite The Demise of Oyster, Ebook Subscription Services Are Mostly Doing Rather Well.

Mofibo may not be the first name to spring to mind when we indies think of ebook subscription services, but despite the constant flow of assurances that Oyster’s demise marks the end of the ebook subscription model, the model is actually doing just fine, thank you very much.

The demise of Blloon added fuel to the fire of speculation that ebook subscription services are dead in the water (KU excepted, of course), but that’s to ignore the inconvenient reality that even in the US many ebook subscription services are doing rather well – Epic! and Hoopla spring to mind – and more are coming online almost by the day. Even Disney is in on the act.

And in that big bad world beyond the US…

Yes, Blloon has fallen by the wayside. But Bookmate, Skoobe and 24 Symbols and a host of others are still going strong after several years, many are expanding, and new operators are appearing all the time, eager to jump on this lucrative bandwagon.

Nubico in Spain, Storytel in Sweden and Elisa in Estonia, for example.
And of course Mofibo.

Over at Publishing Perspectives this past week Nathan Hull of Denmark-based ebook subscription service Mofibo has some interesting observations to make on this subject. (LINK)

As Hull notes, while Oyster is closing down, its team were picked up by Google, so clearly they were doing something right, even if they didn’t quite manage to balance the books.

And Hull reminds us of MySpace, which the elders amongst us will remember was the social media titan as ebooks began to take off back in 2009-10. Despite having 75 million monthly active users MySpace fell by the wayside.

Was this the end of the social media experiment? Clearly not.

In similar vein, while many rejoiced at the demise of Borders and claimed it heralded the demise of print books and b&m bookstores, print is actually still holding its own years later despite the rise of ebooks, and even the mighty Amazon is now opening b&m stores to sell print titles.

The point being, if one or even several players in a business sector fail, this does not automatically mean the model is broken.

And often the next generation of players emerge all the stronger for it.

Hull says, “It would be a grave oversight by agents and publishers to not pursue dialogue, gather research and then experiment in field. Stagnation should not be an option.”

I can only add indie authors to the “agents and publishers”list.

But Hull has far more interesting revelations on offer.

As Business Development Officer for Mofibo Hull has the inside gen on how Mofibo is doing, and it turns out Mofibo is doing rather well.

In Hull’s words, “Much of the digital money for authors in Denmark is from Mofibo, the ebook subscription company where I work. No, it’s not a global brand. It’s not Amazon. It’s not Google. It’s not Apple.”

Which is worth dwelling on.

Many of us indies look at the size of an operator and conclude that if it’s not some mega-corporation it isn’t worth a second look.

But as Hull reports, “…the revenues generated (by Mofibo) are new money and do not affect print income. With print remaining unaffected, Mofibo has transformed the share of digital book sales in Denmark from 3% to 18% in just two years.”

Yeah, that’s the problem with these small-time start-ups without the brand recognition and deep pockets of an Amazon or Apple or Google. They have absolutely no chance of making an impact.

From 3% to 18% in two years?! Somehow I can’t imagine the authors and publishers who are in the Mofibo catalogue are complaining too much about that!

But as Hull says, “….It gets better. Unlike other retailers, Mofibo also gives all the data back to the publishers, allowing them to learn about their readers, the readers’ habits, their environments and much more, effectively providing the publisher with a wealth of business intelligence they have never previously received from a traditional retailer.”

Hull finishes, “Mofibo is a sustainable and profitable company seeing double-digit growth this year.”

That is, a sustainable and profitable ebook subscription service seeing double-digit growth.

Of course one big advantage Mofibo has is that it is not competing with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited in Denmark, and very unlikely it ever will, as Amazon’s international Kindle expansion does not appear to have the smaller European nations on its schedule.

Which means two things for indie authors.

First, that if you are exclusive with Amazon for whatever reason you will not be seeing any benefits from the rapidly expanding global ebook markets outside the Kindle countries.

Secondly that, whatever you may read on the indie blogs circuit about how ebook subscription services are doomed, the reality is many ebook subscription services are doing rather well and delivering many benefits to authors and publishers.

Not just in terms of immediate rewards in the form of royalties, but in the form of data that can help authors and publishers refine their own business models to perform even better in the future.

The downside for indie authors is that, as best I can tell, there is no easy route into Mofibo right now.

Understandably Mofibo are not geared to handling micro-accounts from individual authors. Less understandably they do not seem to be on the distribution list of any of the major aggregators.

I’m really hoping someone will pipe up here and prove me wrong. It would be wonderful to know there is an indie-friendly aggregator supplying Mofibo.

Until such time, be sure to keep Mofibo on your radar and be ready to jump in just as soon as the opportunity does arise.

Ebook subscription services are going nowhere but up.

Like digital libraries, ebook subscription services are going to be a major part of the digital publishing scene over the next five years.

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This post first appeared on The International Indie Author Facebook Group on Thursday 12 November, (LINK)

As The KU Exodus Grows, How Much Longer Before Amazon Puts All KDP Titles In Kindle Unlimited?


In a telling comment over at The Passive Voice this week it was noted that

“On Christmas Day Amazon was offering a huge sale on ebooks, with a big splashy banner on its front page telling customers about $2.99 ebooks. Every single one of them was a Hachette title.”

Compare that to the situation a few months back when Hachette was evil incarnate and indie authors were being begged by Amazon to side against Hachette in a dispute we were not involved in. Many indie authors did as Amazon asked, happy to have a go at the Big 5, never stopping to ask who, when the time came, would fight our cause for us when we indies were at odds with Amazon.

And so it comes to pass.

Amazon rewarded our loyalty with Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service that, unlike rival subscription services Scribd and Oyster, punishes indie authors by first demanding exclusivity, second cannibalizing their sales, replaced with borrows, and third paying the authors a pittance decided on Amazon’s whim each month.

Hugh Howey gave us all a pre-Christmas laugh with his ludicrous suggestion Amazon treats us as second class because we are all scammers and pirates who treat Amazon customers as second class. Howey declined to explain why Amazon therefore continues to treat the Big 5 as first class despite them being convicted of conspiring to give Amazon customers higher prices. In fact, as we see with Hachette, it seems the more problems the trad pub causes Amazon, the more favourably they get treated.

Safe to assume Hachette paid Amazon big money for the placement on the homepage on Christmas Day, but also safe to say Hachette got a ton of sales at the expense of indie authors at similar prices.

Anyone still dreaming that Amazon needs us indies to offer cheap fodder for the masses needs to wake up. 2015 just got whole lot harder.

Add to this Bezos is reporting 10m new Prime members this Holidays season. That takes Prime membership to anywhere between 30m and 60m, depending on whose guestimates you prefer. True most of these will have signed up for the free trial to get the Prime benefits over Christmas, and Amazon won’t be telling us how many cancel when the trial is up. But let’s take a mid-way estimate to work with. Let’s assume Amazon now has 45 million Prime members.

And let’s work on one third of them being readers. Say 15 million.

A safe bet few of them are currently subscribed to KU (another $120 a year on top of the Prime subscription). Many of them will be reading full-price ebooks and Amazon will be paying out its standard rate to publishers and indie authors. Many more will be buying print books, for which Amazon will be not only paying out the standard return to publishers (strange isn’t it, how we don’t call the money Amazon pays the Big 5 a royalty, but we call the exact same payment to indies a royalty) but also paying all warehousing, packaging and shipping charges, as Prime offers free shipping.

Prime members already get unlimited free streaming of music and video. They do so because it’s a great attraction to justify that Prime subscription (once in Prime, customers are far less likely to shop elsewhere, and several reports indicate they spend more). What better way to make Prime even more attractive than to offer unlimited ebooks?

Obviously that isn’t going to happen unless Amazon can get enough cheap content enough to make available, as it clearly has done with music and video. How cheap is cheap? Our guess is, below a dollar a shot as compensation for suppliers.

By no coincidence we’ve seen Amazon force down the pay-out for KU titles month after month after month.

But don’t panic! Check your dashboards on January 15 and there will surely be a small increase in the KU pay-out. Not enough to make any real difference. Just enough for the Amazon cheerleaders to assure us all is well and Amazon has listened to our concerns. “Hey guys! Stop the exodus. Rejoice! We’re getting shafted a little less this month!”

But what happens in the months after that? A return to lower and lower KU payouts, that’s for sure. And when Amazon gets the price down where it wants it, we can likely expect all KDP titles to go into KU and KU to be free to Prime members.

Why? Because those 15 million Prime member readers will then be buying a lot less titles from the Amazon store, both ebook and print, saving Amazon a small fortune on the payout.

Yes, Amazon will have to drop the exclusivity clause for KU participation. But Amazon has already effectively conceded that point as it watches big indie names like Holly Ward and Joe Konrath, along with countless lesser mortals, vote with their feet.

Look at almost any blog nowadays – even the loyalist strongholds like The Passive Voice – and aside from those with short stories and 99c titles the verdict is pretty unanimous. Almost everyone is pulling out of KDP Select as their latest 90 day session ends and they are signing up to other retailers to try salvage their careers.

When we said, back as KU launched in Britain, that KU was nothing more than a stealth royalty cut (LINK), we were pilloried for being anti-Amazon – by the same Amazon loyalists now deserting Select in droves as Amazon twists the knife because of the stealth royalty cuts that is KU.

But we’re not anti-Amazon. far from it. We just believe it’s in the best interests of the indie movement to call foul when we see one, not to look the other way and change the subject, as the Amazon cheerleaders do.

Let’s be clear. We are all in favour of Amazon. Amazon is the single most important ebook retailer in the western ebook market. We are all in favour of ebook subscription services. Or rather, ebook subscription services that treat their content suppliers fairly.

But it was obvious from day one Kindle Unlimited had no intention of doing that. From day one it was clearly it was a two-tier system in which indies were there to make up the numbers and that, a handful of privileged top-sellers aside, we were going to get shafted with payouts.

That’s not being anti-Amazon, anymore than the indies now deserting Select and signing up with Apple and Google Play are anti-Amazon.

Nor is it anti-Amazon to look at the very real possibility that Amazon is planning to put all KDP titles into KU and make KU free for Prime members.

No, before the nay-sayers jump up and scream it, we are not saying the sky is falling. Those of you who want to believe Jeff Bezos lies awake at night thinking how he can help each individual indie author are welcome to your delusions. But Amazon is a business and Amazon will do what is in Amazon’s interests. As and when those interests coincide with ours, that’s great. We’ve all benefited and we are all grateful.

But as Kindle Unlimited shows pretty conclusively, when Amazon’s interests and ours do not coincide, there’s only one winner.


Back in early October we reported on indies seeing their non-Select titles getting KU borrows, and asked the obvious question: Was Amazon trialling the software to put all KDP titles into KU? (LINK)

It was speculative, of course, and we got slammed as being anti-Amazon for even thinking such a thing, but two months on the landscape has changed beyond all recognition.

The battlefields now are littered with the KU wounded, in fast retreat and heading for the safety of multiple retailers.

At the same time both Oyster and Scribd have seen their title count on the up and up, meaning the gap between KU’s much-vaunted 700,000 titles (now a lot less as indies flee en masse) narrows by the day. When Macmillan puts its backlist in the quality gap will soar still higher and the quantity gap will be negligible.

Amazon needs more titles to keep that gap big enough to draw prospective subscribers away from Scribd and Oyster. Fact.

It can’t win on content quality, because the Big 5 have no intention of coming anywhere near KU, while three of the Big 5 are now either in, or will shortly be in, Scribd and Oyster. Fact.

And it gets worse.

The current exodus of indies from KU is seriously upsetting the financial scales that makes KU viable. The indies who are leaving are exactly the ones Amazon need in to attract readers to pay that subscription fee. The bigger names. The top sellers. Those with high-priced titles and full length books.

Instead we see everywhere – even in the Amazon loyalist strongholds – indies agreeing that short and cheap titles are staying in KU and everything else is coming out. Pronto!

Think that through. As the ninety-day sessions expire, out come the big names and the expensive titles and the longer works, while more and more indies jump on the bandwagon with short titles to grab that ill-conceived payout that means Amazon is dishing out more than list price for what is no different from someone using the Look Inside feature.

A reader can download anything in KU, flit through to see if they are interested, then return it and try another. And every time that flit through crosses the 10% marker Amazon has to fork out.

The whole Kindle Unlimited master plan is coming apart at the seams.

Kindle czar Russ Grandinetti is no doubt spitting blood. But he’s not stupid. There’s s simple solution, and one likely as not that has been on the cards all along,or at least since non-Select titles started appearing in KU and showing up in non-Select authors’ dashboards.

Put all KDP titles into KU as standard, whether Select or not, and make KU free for Prime members.

It’s a no brainer for Grandinetti and Bezos.

Yes, it will cause a few weeks of ill-feeling in the blogospshere, but since when did Amazon take any notice of its content suppliers’ concerns? Just look at Hachette. By dropping the exclusivity clause and letting the non-Select authors stay on other retailers it will keep the whining b******s quiet and give the Amazon cheerleaders something to shout about.

Those who stay exclusive in Select will continue to get the bonuses like extra visibility with the KU algorithms, the five days free promo, and of course Countdown. And maybe something new to sweeten that chalice.

The rest of us get shafted with low visibility all round, just as now, as Amazon drives traffic to exclusive KU titles.

Indie authors will be able to sell on Apple and Nook and Google Play, etc, and also still get a few regular sales on Amazon, while watching their Zon income plummet as millions of Prime members download their works for free, on top of the downloads already happening through regular KU subscribers.


Yes, Amazon will throw a ton of money in the pot and make sure we all know it. but it will stay deathly silent about the payout, and as usual we won’t even know what it is until it happens, but a safe bet the indie authors will get paid even more of a pittance than is already on offer, instead of the “royalties” they signed up for.

Here’s the thing: None of us are going to walk away from Amazon if Grandinetti does this.

Yes, we’ll make lots of noise. Lots! Gosh, will we be noisy! And yes, we can all grandstand now about how we are pulling out of KU and Select. That’s easy.

But who among us will pull out of Amazon itself?

Amazon still has 60%-65% of the US ebook market overall and, thanks to an unhealthy focus on Amazon at the expense of other retailers these past five years, most indies get a lot more than 65% of their sales from Amazon. Further, most indies have loyal Kindle fans collected over many years. Those fans – especially the ones with Kindle e-readers – are not going to change devices and sign up to another retailer just to get our next book.

So we’ll make a lot of whining sounds, the same as usual, and then carry on, the same as usual, only with a lot less Zon cash heading our way.

Luckily our indie spokesfolk will be there for us.

Joe Konrath will do another post on how evil trad pub is. David Gaughran will do another post on Author Solutions. And Hugh Howey will explain how indies are such bloody ingrates for not staying in KU voluntarily that we deserve all we get, and by the way, KU is working fine for me. What’s the problem?


No, we are not saying it will happen. The future’s not ours to see.

But the future is ours to plan for.

What we are saying is that Amazon putting all KDP titles into KU and making KU free for Prime members is a realistic possibility. Amazon will do what is in Amazon’s best interests. Period.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

Diversify in 2015!


Ebook Bargains UK

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Far more than just the UK.

Exodus! Konrath Joins The Big-Hitters Leaving Kindle Unlimited As Amazon Continues To Punish Indies For Their Loyalty.

Go Global In 2014

When Joe Konrath launched his latest attack on trad pub, in the form of a “translation” of Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s statement to Macmillan authors, we looked on in amazement as Konrath appeared to take hypocrisy to a whole new level.

Konrath slammed Macmillan for even thinking about putting Macmillan backlist titles into subscription services, saying that these services devalued books, and that authors were badly remunerated, even noting that indie authors were complaining about Kindle Unlimited’s lousy payout.

But as we asked in comments on the Amazon-affiliate blog The Passive Voice, which carried Konrath’s post (LINK),

“If subscription services are such a bad idea, why are your titles in one at all, and why is it they are in the one that, unlike Scribd and Oyster, treats indies as second class, imposes conditions on indies other publishers are not required to meet, pays indies less than other publishers, and will not even tell us in advance what that ever-diminishing payment will be?”

Konrath didn’t respond to that. But other authors picked up on the apparent hypocrisy and successful indie author Mel Comley, on Konrath’s own blog, coyly asked Joe exactly why he had all his titles in KU if subscription services were such a bad idea.

Konrath responded,

“I’ve taken them all out after this period”, adding lamely, “to compare numbers.” (LINK)

And so we end 2014 with a bang! Konrath adds his name to the list of big-hitting authors like HM Ward who are deserting Kindle Unlimited after seeing their income plummet.

It’s not clear when Konrath will be officially out, but the wording offers room for further speculation. Konrath says he’s taking all (not some, all) his titles out “after this period”. The mixed tense suggests he’s pulling them when the current 90 day KDP Select runs finishes.

(Edited) But why wait? When KU launched, all Select titles were included but it gave indies the chance to opt-out. Konrath clearly chose to stay in despite his belief subscription services devalue books. It seems that opt-out is no longer available, which presumably means Konrath is leaving KDP Select itself, and with it Amazon exclusivity, and going back to all the big retailers.

A safe bet this news will make a lot more indie authors question the value both of being in Kindle Unlimited, and in KDP Select.

Hugh Howey perhaps the exception. Howey left KDP Select back in 2012, but in September of this year was saying going all-in with Amazon was his inclination. (LINK)

Howey of course was one of the authors who got the red carpet treatment from Amazon and was allowed to be in KU and sell on other retailers too. And needless to say he has seen a lot more sales/borrows from Amazon as a consequence.

With logic that beggars belief Howey then concludes that being exclusive with Amazon, with just 65% of the US ebook market and sweet FA of most of the global market, reaches more readers than being available on all retailers everywhere and on Amazon as well.

If Howey cannot grasp the simple fact that Amazon is tilting the playing field in his favour to keep him on board, increasing his titles’ visibility at the expense of other authors not exclusive with Amazon then there’s no hope for him.

Or maybe Howey really believes that 65% of the ebook market is somehow bigger than 100%.

By all means go exclusive with Amazon, Hugh, while they are rigging things in your favour. You write for a living, not for free. But don’t pretend you really think that somehow Amazon’s KU has magicked out of thin air millions of new readers equivalent to more than 35% of the US ebook market. Most KU subscribers are the exact same Kindle readers who were previously paying full price for our books and now getting the same books for less.

Or just maybe you will do the right thing and join Joe Konrath in pulling your titles from KU. KU might not be hurting your pocket, Hugh, but you know as well as we do that for most indies it’s a different story. You can’t champion our cause by looking the other way.

2015 was already promising to be a watershed year for the industry, and this latest show of disaffection from Konrath, one of Amazon’s most vocal supporters, makes the prospects for 2015 all the more interesting.

Now it’s time for the other Amazon cheerleaders like David Gaughran and the aforementioned Hugh Howey to declare their hand and draw a line in the sand. Come on guys, grasp the nettle.

Hard through it may be to understand, we don’t need more posts telling is how scammy Author Solutions is. We don’t need more posts telling us how evil trad pub is. Seriously. We’ve got the message. You’re preaching to the choir.

Here’s the thing, guys. We indies know about Author Solutions. It doesn’t affect us. We know about trad pub. If it affects us it’s already too late because we are contracted, or we’ve made a conscious choice to go down that route.

What Amazon does affects us all, every day, whether its “royalty” cuts at Audible or stealth “royalty” cuts through KU, “royalties” that vary from country to country, lower “royalties” at certain price points, demands for exclusivity, etc.

Apple manages to pay us 70% (or more accurately to charge us just 30%) across the board regardless of list price, regardless of where the sale is made, and without demanding exclusivity.

Scribd and Oyster manages to pay us a full “royalty” rate for our borrows in their subscription services.  No exclusivity required.

Meanwhile Amazon has been turning the screws. We’ve seen KU payouts drop from around $2.30 to below $1.40 in less than six months. For ordinary indies not called Hugh Howey Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s digital equivalent of a sweatshop factory in China or India. No wonder Joe Konrath is calling it a day.

Come on guys, give the Author Solutions bashing and Trad Pub a bashing a rest for 2015, and start addressing the real issues that affect us indies every day. Kindle Unlimited is top of the list.

Ebook Bargains UK

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Far more than just the UK.


Is Amazon About To Put All KDP Titles Into Kindle Unlimited?

Go Global In 2014

Increasing reports are coming in that indie authors who are not in KDP Select and happily selling on other retail platforms, are seeing KU borrows in their dashboard. On further investigation they have found their product pages carrying the KU logo and KU download button for those same titles.

Then the KU logo has vanished (but the borrows are still showing).

A glitch? Some think so.

But a strange glitch to occur in the first place, unless…

Is Amazon advance-testing for all KDP titles to be pulled into Kindle Unlimited, whether we agree or not?

We’ve speculated on this before here (LINK), and now the evidence appears to be mounting that this is part of Kindle Czar Russ Grandinetti’s master plan.

If you are thinking Amazon wouldn’t do such a thing without our permission, think again.

Take a look at this report from The Bookseller (LINK) where numerous mid-sized trad publishers are protesting, and even considering legal action, against Amazon.

Why? Because Amazon asked them is they wanted to be part of Kindle Unlimited and they answered with a resounding “No.” So Amazon just went ahead and did it anyway.

The sop to the publishers is that they are getting paid full whack for a borrow.

Indies of course are much further down the food chain, so we just get a share of the pot, and as we’ve explained before, this is nothing more than stealth royalty cut. (LINK)

A $4.99 sale on Amazon nets the author $3.50. A borrow of that same book net the author around $2 (exact amount variable). A massive cut. Which is why of course Grandinetti – the most dangerous man in publishing right now – brought in the All-Stars jackpot payments to keep the top indies on board. Yes they lose money by supporting KU, but Amazon then hands them wads of cash to compensate for the losses.

For normal indies like you and I? Exactly. A royalty cut by any other name…

As per earlier articles (linked above), Kindle Unlimited is ahead of rivals Oyster and Scribd in the numbers game. KU fields some 700,000 titles, against around 500,000 each from the others. But as we now see, many of those 700,000 titles are there without the permission of the publishers.

Safe to say all 500,000 of the Scribd and Oyster titles are there voluntarily.

Both Oyster and Scribd have Big 5 titles on board. Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have both provided back-list to Oyster and Scribd, and more recently HarperCollins stuck in its newly acquired stock of Harlequin back-list titles. (LINK)

As Scribd and Oyster narrow the gap between KU and themselves with the number of titles available, so KU’s appeal diminishes. But if Amazon could suddenly push the KU volume over the million mark…

That would be a big selling point for readers, and perhaps more importantly right now a big news story for the media.

Those of you who saw our post on the Greenpeace assault on Amazon will also know that in the space of one month three of Amazon’s top execs have handed in their notice. You’ll also know that Amazon is about to announce its worst ever financial results, and is facing growing unrest from investors, as well as unrest in the Boardroom. (LINK)

The Q3 results (and equally troubling Q4 guidance) are due towards the end of this month. What normally happens is that Amazon rushes out a spate of news-friendly initiatives (KU itself was launched just ahead of the very bad Q2 report) for lazy journalist to recycle without looking too closely.

The launch of Kindle Germany and Kindle France at the Frankfurt Book Fair, with a simultaneous announcement that KU will now have over one million titles in, would be a great way of grabbing the headlines. And it looks as if Amazon have been doing some beta testing with non-Select titles to make sure everything is in place.

Given Amazon have rode roughshod over the wishes of the mid-sized publishers there seems little hope the wishes of us indies will be considered.

The sop to us will be that we won’t have to be exclusive. Yes, we’ll be in KU and get the potential borrows and the potential share of the pot, but we will still be able to stay on other platforms.

Of course that means the existing KU indies will be put at a disadvantage, so the downside will be that we won’t benefit from the KU perks. All-Star pay-outs, for example, will be Select only. And safe to say there will be less obvious penalties, like enhanced visibility from Select titles while the rest of us just watch our royalties go down as we collect pot payments instead of the full whack like the trad publishers.

But hey, no-one ever said Amazon was a level playing field.

Will it happen? Who can say, but no-one should rule out the possibility, and given the mounting evidence, it seems more and more likely.

If not sooner, then later. But sooner is looking like a strong contender right now.


Ebook Bargains UK.

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

 Far more than just the UK.

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited Ebook Subscription Service – Great For Readers, But What About Authors?

Go Global In 2014

So the long-rumoured ebook subscription service from Amazon is finally out in the open. Sort of.

Amazon has been keeping quiet and everyone else is wildly speculating about how successful it will be. Now it appears to actually be live, in a beta sort of way, and no doubt more details will emerge.

Obviously it’s going to be huge. For readers it’s a no-brainer. The best thing since the Kindle was launched. The big question is why it took Amazon so long and they let rival operators get a head start.

The answer to that of course lies at the heart of the wider issues to be addressed here.

Obviously Amazon has the tech skills, the content, the contacts and the financial muscle such that it could have done this years ago. That it is only going down this route now is testament to two things: First the success of Scribd and Oyster. Second, that the ebook subscription service is not easily compatible with Amazon’s existing business model.

At risk of stating the obvious, Scribd, Oyster, Epic and the other early-movers in this field are not retailers. Yes, you can buy direct from Scribd but that’s not its key role.

On the other hand Amazon is an ebook retailer. The subscription service, no matter how you look at it, is an afterthought brought in reluctantly because Scribd and Oyster proved the model works and they are eating into Kindle market share. Amazon has no real option but to compete head to head with Scribd and Oyster.

And no doubt it will now do it extraordinarily well.

The issue for Amazon, and for we authors, is that once it goes live Kindle Unlimited is going to impact not just on the wider ebook market, but on Amazon’s own sales.

In operating a subscription service Scribd and Oyster are not cannibalizing their retail sales because they don’t already have a retail store where readers are already spending a ton of money. Amazon on the other hand…

 ~ ~ ~

Logical to assume subscription ebooks will not be as lucrative as direct sales, else Amazon would have gone down this route long ago. Make no mistake, we love the idea of an Amazon subscription service. For how long now have we been saying subscription ebooks are the new black? But this is unquestionably a reluctant,  reactive move by Amazon.

And indies may feel the pinch.

Put simply, anyone spending more than ten bucks a month on ebooks from the Amazon Kindle store is going to be better off in future using the subscription service.

And there’s the thing for indies – subscribers will inevitably gravitate towards higher-priced books because they will get more value for their money.

There are already several big (but not Big 5) trad players on board with Amazon’s subscription service, and safe to guess that the wildly-speculated-over negotiations between Simon & Schuster and Amazon have nothing at all to do with a takeover bid and everything to do with getting S&S titles into the subscription store. Both S&S and HarperCollins have substantive inventory in the Scribd and Oyster catalogues, so it would be no great leap for them to sign up with Amazon for the same service.

What impact will that have on indies?

Quite a dramatic one, is our guess.

Consider: Once you’ve invested your monthly ten bucks into the Kindle Unlimited service (which will no doubt be a recurring deduction from your card, so you won’t even need to think about it after day one) then why would you bother downloading that 0.99 title from Joe Nobody (at which rate you would need to read ten ebooks a month just to break even on your payment) when suddenly you can get all those much more expensive titles from names you know and trust, or names you know and have been tempted to try, but were never going to risk six or seven dollars each for?

Yes, indies can of course increase their prices – but then suffer the consequences in the main Kindle store where by and large indies have an impact because they can price low.

This will inevitably skew the playing field yet further towards the bigger publishers, and towards Amazon’s own imprint titles and Amazon-exclusive White Glove titles (which naturally will get heavy in-store promotion).

It will also skew the charts.

Safe to assume any full read of a subscription ebook (by the look of things that will mean anyone who reads more than 30%) will count as a sale for the charts.

So taking the above scenario that subscribers will gravitate towards downloading known names at higher prices from trad publishers and heavily-promoted titles from Amazon imprints / White Glove, and throwing in the logical assumption that subscribers will only ever “buy” direct from the Kindle store if a title is not in the subscription service, the extra traffic generated is going to shift inexorably away from most indies.

More trad pubbed titles in the charts mean more visibility and therefore more sales, both direct and through subscription downloads – which in turn means more visibility, and therefore more sales…

Without at least some of the Big 5 on board the Amazon subscription service is going to find it hard to compete with Scribd and Oyster, so a safe bet Amazon will be pulling out all the stops – and making whatever short-term concessions are necessary – to get at least a few of them on board.

Which makes us wonder if one of the sticking blocks for Hachette in their negotiations has actually been about Amazon demanding they put their titles into the subscription service.

Even without the Big 5, Amazon is claiming to have 600,000+ titles in the scheme. Compared to about 500,000 for Scribd and Oyster, both of whom have two Big 5 players on board. We know both Oyster and Scribd have substantive indie titles on board through Smashwords and D2D, so safe to presume the Amazon numbers include – and probably mostly comprise – KDP titles.

Amazon are also throwing in audio-books via its Audible arm, but indications so far is that these will number mere “thousands”, which in Amazon-speak could mean anything between 2,000-9,000 (7,000-8,000 seems a common guess). Most likely indie ACX titles.

UPDATE: It appears “thousands” s indeed just 2,000, but you also get a free three-month subscription to Audible.

In both instances it looks like indie titles will be part of the mix whether we like it or not, which will present an interesting dilemma for the many indies who have so far eschewed Scribd and Oyster on principle, because they think subscription services are bad news for authors.

UPDATE: initial reactions are that only Select titles are in, and maybe not all of those.

Assuming we are co-opted in, like it or not, the issue of author remuneration arises.

Publisher’s Lunch has a story behind a pay-wall suggesting Scholastic and similar big (but not Big 5) players will be getting a full payment for every title downloaded and read 30% of the way through or more. What that full payment will be will depend on their contract, of course.

With Scribd and Oyster indies typically get about 60% after the aggregators take their cut. The question is, can indies expect 70%, or even 60%, from Amazon?

Our guess is maybe, if in Select.

Obviously the more Amazon can claim it has exclusive material not available on rival subscription sites, the bigger its appeal. So this seems like an ideal opportunity for Amazon to follow the well-established precedent (think India, Mexico and Brazil Kindle stores) of just 35% for non-Select titles, and 70% as a reward for going exclusive with Amazon.

An alternative to a fixed or two-tier percentage rate, and one being hawked around the Amazon forums, is that indie authors will be paid from the KOLL fund that currently is shared among authors who get a book “borrowed” by Prime members.

Which raises two issues.

First, to keep with the video and music download options Amazon could make ebooks “free” for Prime members. The monthly ebook subscription would cost more than Prime membership over a year so it be an incentive to get people to sign up to Prime.

But – second issue – if the KOLL fund (currently at $1.2 million) was used to share between the many more indie authors who would see downloads through the subscription services, even allowing for the skew as outlined above, then the amount each author got would reduce dramatically.

A simple expedient (and most likely) would be to increase the fund. Small change for Amazon, and giving authors the hope of making more. But the existing KOLL arrangement favours higher-priced indie authors, for the same reasons that were outline above that will favour higher-priced subscription ebooks – it’s simply better value to choose the highest-priced ebook(s) from those that interest you.

One other key question as yet not being asked is if this will be a US-only scheme or whether the other Kindle countries will be allowed to play ball. Past experience suggests it will be US-only initially, then rolled out to the UK and perhaps Germany.

Many parts of the world already have their own subscription services (that long pre-date Scribd and Oyster) but the UK is notably lacking. Brits can use the Scribd subscription service but few even know it exists.

No question if Amazon were to launch a Kindle UK ebook subscription service that would be very, very well received this side of the pond.

But that brings us full circle to our initial point. We are unlikely to see a UK ebook subscription service from Amazon unless there is a serious UK competitor to compete against.

As above, while Brits can sign up to Scribd few even know it exists, and the likelihood that Scribd would set up an independent subscription service in the UK geared to a British audience is remote.

And so to this parting thought – totally speculative, but not beyond possibility.

There is one UK player that has deep enough pockets, good enough standing with the content providers, a big-enough customer base, and the motivation to bring a “Netflix for ebooks” model to the UK.

Could we see a trad-pub only subscription service launched in the UK by Britain’s breakout supermarket ebook store Tesco Blinkbox?


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Scribd – What It Is And Why You Should be There


The first Scribd results are in for Smashwords, and it’s looking good.

Over at the Smashwords blog Mark Coker reports “It was the largest first-month sales for any new Smashwords retail partner in the last five years.” April figures were even more impressive.

Coker also reports on a Scribd promo dedicated to indie authors. Check out the Smashwords blog for more details.

Not in Scribd? You’re not alone.

Scribd is a fine example of the parallel universes readers and authors inhabit. Many indie authors have never heard of Scribd, and even fewer have given it a second thought a venue to reach readers.

Yet Scribd has over one hundred million registered users globally and gets EIGHTY MILLION unique visitors each month.

No, that’s not typo. Eighty million a month!

No, not all those visitors are looking for ebooks, but many will be and that number will be increasing by the day thanks to the ebook subscription service Scribd offers.


First, some background. Scribd has been around for a while now. It launched in 2007 as a global document sharing platform, and since as long ago as 2009 – the same year Amazon launched the KDP – Scribd has been selling ebooks.

In January 2013 Scribd soft-launched its ebook subscription service as part of its premium content offerings, with an official launch in October 2013. By the end of 2013 the ebook subscription service was one of the biggest of its kind.

Amazon famously lets you borrow a whole ONE ebook a month for free if you are a paid-up Prime member, and that free ebook comes from the limited selection available in Select, which of course will be free at some stage regardless. And of course it excludes all mainstream-published titles.

Scribd lets you pay $8.99 a month and you get to read as much as you like from an impressive range of titles from big name authors. HarperCollins, for example, has put much of their back-catalogue into Scribd.

Why would anyone want to use Scribd instead of buying from Amazon or B&N or Google Play or whatever their favourite retailer is?

The answer is very simple, and why subscription ebook services like Scribd are the new black.

Here’s the thing. When you buy an ebook from Amazon (or any other retailer – I’m using Amazon as an example because it’s the one most indies are familiar with) you don’t actually buy the ebook.

No, seriously. You may think that when you click on “Buy” and the retailer takes money from your account that means you’ve bought an ebook and it’s yours to keep. The reality is rather different.

Never mind that it’s an intangible you can never hold or touch or put on the shelf. You don’t even own the ebook once you’ve paid for it!

What you buy is the licence to read that ebook on a certain range of devices subject to the whim of the retailer. You don’t own the ebook and you never will. You can’t resell it, or even give it away when you’ve finished.

Let’s spell that out clearly, because this is going to impact on your indie author career whether you like it or not.

An ebook you “buy” from a retailer is licensed to you. It’s not yours any more than a library book is yours. Savvy readers understand this and ask themselves why they would want to pay top whack for an ebook when they might be able to get the same title on their device for a token fee from a library or subscription service.


Of course we all know that subscription services and digital libraries are so new – America only invented them last year – that readers don’t even know they exist, so we indies needn’t worry. Just carry on as we are.

But there’s the problem. Readers. The fly in the ointment of all ambitious indie authors. If it wasn’t for pesky readers our lives would be so much simpler. Just load up to KDP and sit back and watch the cash roll in.

The trouble is, readers (who are the ones who actually pay us, remember. Amazon, Nook, Apple et al are just the middlemen in this game) don’t really care about our convenience or well-being. They just want good books at good prices, and they will go to retailers and outlets that suit them, not us.

As more and more subscription services appear, so more and more readers will migrate to them. Scribd saw three million downloads of its Android app in its first month after the official launch in October, and in February this year Scribd lunched a KindleFire app after 100,000 Scribd ebook subscription service users said they wanted to use Scribd on their Amazon device.

Pause briefly to ponder the significance. If you own a KindleFire it’s pretty much a given that you buy your ebooks at Amazon. Not compulsory, but the two tend to go hand in hand. Yet here, in the space of a couple of months, are 100,000 KindleFire owners asking for an app for their device so they can read ebooks from the Scribd subscription service.

Why? Because, as above, you don’t own your ebook from Amazon, so why buy a licence each time you want to read a book if you can pay Scribd $8.99 a month and download as many ebooks as you like?

No, Scribd hasn’t got several million titles to choose from like on Amazon, but the selection is big and growing fast as more and more publishers and authors clamber aboard.

And of course it’s not just Scribd playing havoc with the big retailer’s hopes and aspirations. Oyster currently supplies Apple iTunes and is US only, but will soon have an Android version for all devices and has ambitions on the wider world.

Both Scribd and Oyster are accessible to indies through Smashwords or Bookbaby.

The other subscription services aren’t so indie-friendly right now, but give them time… Entitle face an uphill struggle with some bizarre pricing decisions, but may yet turn their boat around. Epic, the subscription service for children’s ebooks, has recently obtained new funding and will be expanding into Europe later this year. That’s just a few from many US options.

And won’t the Europeans be delighted to finally see some subscription ebook action? That’s the problem being away from the cutting edge of the ebook industry in the US. The rest of the world are just so far behind with this ebook malarkey.

But don’t tell that to 24 Symbols in Spain, Skoobe in Germany, Riidr in Denmark or the many other subscription services around the globe, including in Russia, which many analysts are predicting will be the third biggest ebook market after the US and China before this year is out.

Total Boox in Israel is now sending ebooks to US readers and libraries.

And don’t even mention Nuvem de Livros, an ebook subscription service for Argentina and Brazil that is set to roll out across the rest of Latin America this year. Nuvem de Livros already boasts one million subscribers. If you’re not seeing many sales from Kindle Brazil, Apple Brazil, Google Play Brazil or Kobo’s Brazilian partner store Livraria Cultura in Brazil it may just be that many readers are too busy reading ebooks from Nuvem de Livros or borrowing ebooks from digital libraries instead.

Digital libraries? The other elephant in the room for indies who want to believe a certain well-known US store is the be all and end all of their existence. Because for the same reason that subscription ebook services are taking off – that you will never own the ebook you “buy” – so savvy readers are turning to digital libraries to sate their hunger for ebooks.

Last year North America’s leading supplier of ebooks to libraries in the USA and Canada, OverDrive, saw one hundred million digital downloads. The numbers this year are expected to dwarf that figure. And OverDrive is just one of many options to get your ebooks into digital libraries, not just in the US and Canada but around the world.

Oh, and as an aside Overdrive doesn’t just supply libraries. It will also get your ebooks into key retailers like Books A Million in North America, Kalahari and Exclus1ves in South Africa, Waterstone’s in the UK, and a host of other outlets globally. OverDrive has just this week signed up a deal to take content to and bring content from Japan.

And news just in – Baker & Taylor now supply ebooks to Canadian libraries. Those of you with Smashwords or Bookbaby should see some benefits.

But back to Scribd.

One of the downsides to Scribd is concerns about piracy. Scribd operate a two-tier service and the free file-sharing platform does seem open to abuse, as pretty much anyone can upload anything. The premium platforms – including the ebook subscription service – appear to have resolved this problem. The fact that a major publisher like HarperCollins has signed up with them should reassure those with concerns. Bottom line is, piracy happens. It happens on Amazon, on Kobo, etc. It’s something we have to live with.

But Scribd isn’t sitting back and hoping for the best. They have a new system in place – Book ID – to help keep Scribd a healthy place for authors. Check out the details on Book ID here.

How to get into Scribd? You can go direct, but both Smashwords and Bookbaby now offer you an easy route in. Which is best? Hard to say at this stage as Smashwords titles have just started to get results and Bookbaby is a little behind them.

If you are with Smashwords for the other subscription service Oyster then I would recommend you go to Bookbaby for Scribd. Why?

First, it’s always good to spread the load. Putting all your eggs in one basket is asking for trouble.

Second, Bookbaby has a reputation for quality which Smashwords sadly lacks. Bookbaby requires validated epubs and ISBNs, which means only the more serious indie authors go there, and there are controls over what gets through. Smashwords is a free-for-all load-what-you-like option.

Third, Smashwords also has a reputation as a Triple X porn site, which Bookbaby most definitely has not. As above, Smashwords is a free-for-all load-what-you-like option.

But let’s end on a positive note. Scribd and the other ebook subscription services, along with digital libraries, are going to be major players in the coming years as more and more readers reject the idea of paying for a licence for every ebook they read and pay a token fee to a library or a monthly fee to a subscription service and read all they want.

Whether it’s Scribd, Oyster or some other subscription option, getting your ebooks into the subscription model and the digital library distributors should be your priority.

The readers are already there. Are you?


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Digital Libraries, Subscription Services and Post-it Notes

GoGlobalIn2014_500You may think Post-it Notes – those delightful little yellow squares of paper that stick just where you need them but never where you don’t – have little to do with ebooks. But the ebook world is always stranger than you think.


We’ve mentioned in previous posts that the wholesaler OverDrive saw over one hundred million digital downloads in 2013, and that five million of those came from just five libraries in the US, and another million from a single library in Canada.

Indie authors largely dismiss libraries as irrelevant to their private little world, where readers are expected to pay cash up-front to a big retailer like Amazon that’s easy for the author to upload to, or go to hell.

But libraries have been at the forefront of literacy and book discovery pretty much since books were invented. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Sahara Desert in West Africa one library in Timbuktu (yes, it’s a real place!) had more books than the prestigious university libraries of Renaissance and Enlightenment England.

In the twenty-first century, in England and America and pretty much everywhere else, libraries, far from becoming redundant as books go digital, are experiencing a whole new lease of life providing digital content to a public with an insatiable appetite for more.

Not just by making books available from established authors and publishers, but by publishing their own books and ebooks, and helping local authors do the same.

One library in Tennessee is leading the way, having partnered with IngramSpark to set up its own library self-publishing platform – both print and digital. The primary aim is to make the new books they create available in the library, with all the revenue coming back to the library. But of course they will also be putting these new titles out for sale on retail platforms, and for borrowing through other libraries.

Early days, but this is one more example of market fragmentation shifting reader focus away from the handful of mega-retailers that most indies are almost exclusively focussed on.

Too many indie authors have their heads in the sand about the way things are developing out there. Wake up and smell the coffee! Subscription ebook reading and library ebook reading are the new black.

Why pay Amazon, or B&N, or Kobo, or Sony for every single ebook you read when you can pay a token fee at the library or a monthly subscription and read as much as you like, with exactly the same ease and convenience as from an online retailer?

That may not be your thinking, but as the OverDrive numbers show – one hundred million digital downloads last year – it is the thinking of a growing number of people. We can expect the OverDrive numbers to at least double this year. More likely they will grow multi-fold.

Here’s the thing. You don’t own the ebook from Amazon or Sony or Google Play, any more than you owned a print book borrowed from the local library. Not convinced? Read the small print in the Kindle user agreement, for example.

Upon your download of Digital Content… the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application… and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

An Amazon ebook (or from any other big retailer – their T&Cs are almost identical) is licensed to you. It will never be yours, to lend, sell or otherwise recycle. It’s just an expensive way of borrowing ebooks long term.

The reasons most people progress from libraries to buying print books from bookstores are a) ownership and b) convenience. Digital libraries and ebook subscription services level the playing field.

As more and more readers come to this realization so more and more readers will gravitate to digital library and subscription services.

Don’t let these exciting opportunities to reach readers pass you by! These outlets are not going to cannibalize your beloved Amazon sales. They are going to compliment them.

In the USA it’s Oyster, Scribd and Entitle that are leading the way with ebook subscription services. Yay! Go, Go, USA!

Though actually ebook subscriptions have been around in Europe for several years.

Denmark does them. Germany does them. Even Russia does them. Spain’s 24 Symbols has been going for several years and – you’ll like this – it has an English-language portal and offers English language ebooks!

Like we said at the top, the ebook world is always stranger than you think.

OverDrive and Ingram got a brief mention above. Just two of the big wholesalers that supply ebooks to libraries (and retailers) around the world. There are others.

If you are with Smashwords then you may be getting into some libraries through Baker & Taylor. If you are not with Smashwords, which also gets you into the Oyster and Scribd subscription services, then you really need to take a second look at your distribution pattern. Smashwords is far from perfect, but the above outlets, along with Flipkart, India’s biggest online store, are places you could be gaining new readers for your titles, and Smashwords is an easy route in..

The number of digital libraries is going to expand rapidly over the next few years, at home and abroad, soaking up readers who might otherwise have gone to the big retailers we all know and love. Those OverDrive numbers will go from hundreds of millions to off-the-scale in the coming years.  Will any of them be your ebooks?

It’s not 2009 anymore. You need to be in the wholesaler catalogues and as many distribution channels as possible, if you want to stay ahead of the game. And that means not just the obvious places.

We began this post with a mention of Post-it notes. Post-it notes are made a company you’ve possibly seen the logo for but have never given a second thought to. Take a look at the bottom right hand corner of the Post-it logo above.


Never heard of them? Don’t worry. They’ve never heard of you.

But here’s the thing. 3M don’t just make Post it notes. They are a global production and services operation that have a surprisingly diverse portfolio. Among the many strings to their bow 3M one of the leading suppliers of ebooks to libraries in the US through the 3M Cloud Library eBook Lending System.

If your local library uses the 3M Cloud you can download ebooks from the library direct to your Nook, Kobo, iPad or iPhone, or your Android device. But as their site says, “The 3M Cloud Library is not currently supported by Amazon.” Draw your own conclusions…

This week 3M took their first tentative step abroad with a foray across the border into Canada. Given 3M’s impressive global reach across a diverse range of products we can safely assume 3M has further international expansion in the pipeline.

The ebook world is changing by the day, getting bigger, better, faster. It doesn’t care for geographical boundaries, myopic indie authors unwilling to step outside their comfort zone, or how many of your ebook sales currently come from Retailer A or Retailer B that make you dismiss the rest as irrelevant.

The ebook market is driven by readers, not writers. It’s something a lot of indies seem to have trouble grasping. So let’s spell it out.

We authors only supply the content.

Readers supply the demand.

If your titles are not in the outlets where the readers are getting their ebooks from around the world – be it Uncle Joe’s 24/7 Mini Ebook Store & Car Wash, the latest ebook subscription service, or the digital library at the end of their digital road – they will just read another author’s books instead. It’s your loss, not theirs.

it’s not rocket science. Being available is half the battle.

Go Global In 2014.

Or be left behind.

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