A Statista study from earlier this year shows that the subscription model works–at least for movies and television shows: The study showed that Netflix subscriptions are nearly as common among adults aged 18 to 36 as cable television subscriptions. Hulu is another big player in this area, and Amazon has thrown its hat in the ring with its subscription Instant Video service. Among others, Spotify applies the subscription model to music. Indeed, with cloud and mobile technology pushing the popularity of subscription services to an all-time high, it’s no wonder that a new wave of companies is vying to become the “Netflix for e-books.”
In the Running
Scribd, Oyster and eReatah have all jumped into the e-book subscription arena, offering members access to a set number of e-books per month for a fee. But there are big names with big footprints already in the field, including Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, which offers four times more titles than the relative newbies. (Amazon looks like it is also upping the ante with its recent purchase of Goodreads and the book sharing social network’s 16 million members.)
On the other hand, according to TechCrunch, being a newbie in tech world is sometimes an advantage in its own right. “Goodreads had over 16 million readers at the time of the deal, but the technology itself feels stagnant and dated, especially on mobile, potentially giving Oyster an edge,” the article stated.
The library liability
The biggest issue facing would-be Netflix services for e-books is as old as, well, Ben Franklin: Whereas unlimited access to movies for a monthly subscription was a new concept when Netflix emerged, the same isn’t true for books. The book-lending concept has been around as long as public libraries have been around–since Ben Franklin introduced the concept, around 1730.
And not only do public libraries enable people to borrow books with actual paper pages, many are lending ebooks, as well–for free.
“[I]n addition to competing with e-commerce giant Amazon, whose empire began with bookselling,” wrote TechCrunch, “these startups compete with other so-called ‘Netflix for e-books’ outlets: (gasp!) local libraries.”
Scribd, for one, is not daunted: “Netflix is worth about $18 billion. Spotify is worth about $3 billion,” Trip Adler, Scribd’s co-founder and CEO, told Mashable. “I don’t see why there isn’t a similar opportunity in this space.”
Standing out from the crowd
Will Scribd, Oyster or eReatah become Netflix for e-books? Perhaps not. But does that mean the model will fail? Not necessarily. After all, people buy gym memberships even though running outside is free.
“A health club membership, like an ebook service subscription, is often an aspirational purchase for subscribers,” said the indie book publisher Smashwords in a blog. “As long as the reader wants to increase their reading in the future, they’re likely to maintain their subscription, even if they don’t actually read more.”
Interestingly, ebook subscriptions could find success for the very same reason they may not be the next Netflix: Books aren’t movies. Indeed, if there’s anything a potential industry disrupter might take away from from the ebook service race, it’s that such distinctions matter. Trying to recreate another industry’s disruption in one’s own is only asking for comparisons in which you are likely to come up short.
However, recognizing what the ebook lending companies have in common with Netflix–as well as with music streaming services like Spotify and iTunes Radio–helps create some context for the greater world of media consumption. Across the board, the competition is hottest in cloud-based technology: Consumers don’t need to own their media; they “simply” want access to it anytime and anywhere.
With their place in the digital media industry in mind, if Scribd, Oyster, eReatah or any other contender shoots for its own goals rather than Netflix’s, it might just become the “[insert provider name here] of ebook subscriptions.”