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?