Public Libraries Rediscovered: E-book Subscription Services

| 1 Comment

We know that Amazon likes to be first. First in everything but, especially being first. Surprisingly enough there, Kindle Unlimited is not first. Or second for that matter. According to highly complex calculations which takes into account the position of the moon, the tide and the price of a double skinny Latte in Ouagadougou we have figured out that they are about 5000 years late!

Public libraries date back to at least 2600BC. And that is basically the service that Kindle Unlimited is offering. Kindle Unlimited is also not the first one to offer the e-book variation. Scribd and Oyster beat them to that.

You pay a monthly subscription fee and then these services allow you to browse their collections and borrow e-books. Various libraries in the US also allow you to borrow e-books. If you are a tax payer you get free access to the public libraries, and therefore free access to their collections of e-books.

This subscription service has been called the “Netflix for books.” We could also mention Spotify as an equivalent. As much as you want!

The subscription fees are fairly low. For all three services mentioned you can budget about $10 per month, but in actual fact it is less. Kindle Unlimited comes in last, or first, depending on your orientation. They ask $9.99 per month. Oyster lands in the middle with a minutely cheaper $9.95. Scribd is a comparative bargain, asking only $8.99! “That,” says Zen Scribe, “is a very poor attempt at humor.”

What is available?

If you grew up in a small town you know very well that the selection at the local library could be pretty limited and that it could take ages for a requested book to make its appearance. Do these services offer good books?

With all the e-books available these days, it is possible for a service to offer you thousands upon thousands of books for a tiny amount, while they are freely available on the Internet. It is therefore important to know what they offer and not just how many.


  Amazon Unlimited Oyster Scribd
Number of Titles 600000 500000 400000
Publishers Undisclosed 1600 900
Big 5 None HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster
Independent Authors Demands exclusivity (Enrollment in KDP Select) Via Smashwords Via Smashwords
Devices Kindle and Kindle enabled devices Apple iOS 7+, Android 4+, Nook HD,  Kindle Fire, desktop application iOS, Android and Windows Phone smartphones and tablets, Kindle Fire, the Nook, desktop application
Availability US only US only International


Will I get paid?

This is the preferred question, because it can be answered with a simple, straightforward and honest, “Yes!”

What will I get paid, does however complicate the answer a bit. In the case of Oyster and Scribd, the answer is the same.

From the Smashwords website “Smashwords authors and publishers will set the price, there will be no discounting, and authors will earn 60% of the list price on all sales.” A book is considered “sold” once 30% or more has been read.

This is a simple straightforward system.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Kindle Unlimited has a more uncertain answer, especially if you are trying to estimate the exact amount you will earn. Because in this case authors earn a share of KDP Select Global Fund, as in the case of Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. A book is considered borrowed if a reader only reaches the 10% mark of a book. But the amount earned per borrow has nothing to do with the price of the book. It depends on the total fund for the month, total number of borrows across all titles and how many times you title was borrowed.

Does Netflix for E-books work?

Research and back of the paper calculation shows that the average US consumer spends about $43 per year on e-books. Heavy readers read 11+ books a year (That means that the average InstaScriber is a morbidly obese reader!) and spend about $95 in the same period. Only about a quarter of US readers are heavy readers. The current pricing of e-book subscription services will barely work for heavy readers based on their current level of spending. It will definitely not work for over three quarters of the American readers.

One has to ask that just because Netflix worked, will a ‘Netflix for e-books’ also work?

Music and video consumption can be passive. You can play your music in the background and listen with less than half an ear. Watching a favorite series also does not require the same amount of “presence.” You could easily cook, write an e-mail, paint your nails, or chat with your partner while watching Friends. One can’t compare reading to watching movies or listening to music. Reading, even an easy-read, requires you to concentrate on the text. We can only read so much because it is an exclusive action, in that it excludes all other actions. You could also call it inclusive as it includes you totally!

And this makes us skeptical about the utility of e-book subscription services. Can a reader use it enough? Probably not.

Should I, or Shouldn’t I?

As an author, however, it doesn’t hurt for you to be a part of these services. So long as there are at least some people subscribed, recommendations and trial by the readers because they have already paid for subscription can help you get discovered and get new readers. It cannot hurt. But none of these services make it straightforward for indie authors to be included in their catalog.

Amazon demands exclusivity. That may not work forever. However, if you are enrolling in KDP select for other promotional benefit, you will be a part of Kindle Unlimited anyway. Each KDP select enrollment period is for 90 days. If you are just starting out and are not sure which platform will work best for you, you can keep yours exclusive to Kindle for first 90 days, see the sales and earnings from Kindle Owners’ Library Borrows (including Kindle Unlimited) and then decide whether to continue with Amazon exclusivity, or look for other channels. Even when you forgo the exclusivity, you can continue to sell on Amazon. Your title will just not be a part of Owners’ Library and Kindle Unlimited.

For Oyster and Scribd, you need to go through Smashwords. If you usually prefer working with all the platforms directly, and do not want to use Smashwords as your distributor, this is a hurdle. But if you anyway intend to publish through them, then there is no extra effort needed.

Because of exclusivity demanded by Amazon, you can’t be a part of Kindle Unlimited and Scribd/Oyster at the same time. Smashwords, who are “anti-Kindle-Unlimited” (and anti-Amazon, in general), have pointed out that sales via Oyster and Scribd have been their fastest growing channel recently. At the same time many authors swear that nothing works like Kindle for them and are willing to accept exclusivity as a price. But everyone has to find out for themselves which channels work for them.

Let us know how you see this development. We would love to hear from authors with experience at Amazon Unlimited, Oyster and/or Scribd

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Business Model of Unlimited E-book Subscription | InstaScribe

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: