This US publisher announced in April that they will be changing their Storia ebook platform from a retail service to a subscription service, and as part of that transition Scholastic recently announced that they are shutting down the retail side of the operation. They have quietly posted a notice on the Scholastic website:
With the launch of Storia School Edition on September 1, Scholastic will transition to a streaming model for children's eBook delivery.
The switch to streaming means that eBooks you've previously purchased may soon no longer be accessible.
Scholastic also warns parents and teachers that they might lose access to an ebook if the ebook is not access by 15 October, but on the upside the publisher is willing to offer full refunds - you just have to ask for one before 1 August (more details here).
Correction: Scholastic's deadline was always 1 August 2015 (and not 2014), cancelling some of my complaints without changing the basic facts that customers could lose access to their ebooks.
With nearly $2 billion a year in revenue, Scholastic is a children's publisher which is larger than many of what are known as the Big 5 US publishers. It doesn't get as much attention in the press because Scholastic primarily focuses on direct sales to parents, schools, and libraries.
Launched in 2012, Storia was one of Scholastic's direct efforts. It launched into beta with a catalog of 1,300 titles, and Scholastic reports that two years later that Storia offers over 2,000 published by Scholastic, including enriched ebooks and classic series like Clifford, The Magic School Bus, and Harry Potter, which can be read on Storia apps for Android and iOS. It was originally intended for the consumer market but due to interest from schools it is being relaunched as a streaming service.
Earlier this year Scholastic announced that they would be launching Storia School Edition, subscription-based alternative which offered access to the entire catalog of PreK-6 titles for an annual fee. That is scheduled to launch 15 August, only 3 weeks after Scholastic shut down the retail operation. Prices start at $2,000, and a subscription is intended to cover an entire grade level or an entire school. Scholastic has also said that a family streaming version of Storia should be available through book clubs and book fairs in 2015.
According to the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive, Scholastic was selling ebooks on their Storia platform as late as 22 July, before they abruptly disabled the site and posted the warning noticed mentioned above.
Publishers Lunch reports Scholastic has started sending out notices to their customers about the change and the refund option. Let's hope not to many are on vacation this week and that they receive the email in a timely fashion.
Scholastic has been one of the companies I have been quietly watching because their experience with direct sales put them in a unique position to thrive in an ebook market dominated by Amazon without having to rely on Amazon.
I'm not the only one; a few months ago Fast Company covered Scholastic, noting that:
Scholastic, the iconic publishing company has nearly 100 years of history promoting literacy to kids, but the digitization of the world over the last 20 years created some new challenges. With more and more kids turning towards digital media for their entertainment, Scholastic recognized in order to remain relevant and fulfill the company’s mission, it would need to reach children where they were: on screens.
Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media, says developing the brand across a variety of platforms (print and digital) allowed Scholastic to maintain its relevance as a company that promotes literacy education. “We recognize that sometimes kids want to read a print book, sometimes they want to watch a show, sometimes they want to use an iPad or a phone and play a game. And we want to be there with quality media that [promotes] reading and learning,” says Forte. This 360-view approach distinguished Scholastic from other publishing companies who too narrowly focus on literacy in its traditional form.
Bottom Line: Scholastic’s secret sauce is the development of a complementary media strategy across a variety of mediums, without losing focus on the company’s mission. “We have developed our brand so that it’s relative and meaningful to children when they want to read, when they want to watch and when they want to play,” says Forte.
And now we see Scholastic repeating the same mistakes of other companies, including Samsung and Barnes & Noble. In the past couple years each of these companies have shut down an ebookstore, leaving at least some of their customers in the lurch.
In late 2012 Barnes & Noble shut down Fictionwise, the ebookstore they acquired in 2009. Customers were given a 3 week warning to transfer their purchases to the Nook Store. That process was hit or miss for US customers, but that is better than how international customers were treated; they were simply told tough luck. (And then a year later the Nook Store launched internationally).
And earlier this year Samsung abruptly shut down Readers Hub, their ebookstore, and replaced it with the recently launched co-branded Kindle app. Samsung announced the closure about 6 weeks in advance, but at least some existing customers were given no notice of the closure and only discovered after the fact that they had lost access to their ebooks and related notes and highlights.
It's times like this that make me wonder whether we need new consumer protection laws to stop otherwise healthy companies from simply shuttering digital services and leaving customers with no content, no money, and no recourse. Sure, one could argue that it is covered under a contract, but is that a fair or reasonable contract?
In the case of ebooks, where consumers often pay the equivalent of the price of a print book (if not higher) and get an ebook which comes with far fewer rights and privileges, the answer is simply no.