Mark Coker has announced over on the Smashwords blog that Scribd is thinning out its catalog. More specifically, Scribd is now pulling titles from what is probably its most read genre: romance.
Effective immediately, I estimate 80-90 percent Smashwords romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including nearly all of our most popular romance titles. Books priced at free are safe and will remain in their catalog.
Based on what I've been able to glean, the lower the price and the higher the word count, the better the odds the book will remain. Few books priced $3.99 and above will remain. Scribd is not publicly revealing the formulas for what stays and what goes, probably because much of this is still in flux. They're cutting all publishers and distributors with the same blunt knife.
It's ugly. The problem for Scribd is that romance readers are heavy readers, and Scribd pays publishers retailer-level margins for the books.
Neither Mark nor I know for certain why Scribd is doing this, but I agree with Mark's conclusion.
Update: The culling has also hit authors and publisher who distribute through Draft2Digital. An author broke the news on Twitter, and Bob Mayer confirmed the news and posted the email he got from D2D.
Romance readers are voracious readers, and Scribd and Oyster were paying what was effectively the wholesale price anytime a reader read more than 10% of a book. To be more exact, Mark revealed in late 2013 that authors were earning 60% of the retail price when that threshold was reached.
Obviously that was going to be unsustainable in the long run (this is why Amazon went with a pool of money for KDP Select). In fact, I'm surprised that Scribd waited so long.
Scribd has been been paying authors at that "hello bankruptcy" rate for the past 18 months, while in that time Scribd has raised capital at least once (possibly twice). I would have thought that the VCs would have pushed for this culling as a condition of their investment (I would have), but I guess they were satisfied at the time with Scribd's growth and the rate at which was burning through money.
Scribd has released a statement, but it was basically a shorter version of the text Scribd was sending to publishers.
Here's that email:
As you know, in starting Scribd, we bore the majority of the risk when establishing a business model that paid publishers the same amount as the retail model for each book read by a Scribd subscriber. Now, nearly two years later, the Scribd catalog has grown from 100,000 titles to more than one million. We’re proud of the service we’ve built and we’re constantly working to expand the selection across genres to give our readers the broadest possible list of books for $8.99 per month.
We’ve grown to a point where we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service. We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.
We look forward to continuing to grow subscribers, increase overall reading, and increase total publisher payouts in a way that works for everyone over the long term. We of course want to keep as many of your authors and titles on Scribd as we can, so we’d love to discuss our plans and how we can best work with you going forward.
Thank you for your business.
I don't know yet just how many publishers have received this email but I suspect that the culling is hitting traditional romance publishers just as heavily as it is impacting indie authors.
Curiously, Scribd is not talking about culling other genres (the statement only mentions romance) at this time but I suspect that SF&F will be the next to go under the knife.
SF readers are nearly as voracious as romance readers, which means they are draining Scribd's pocketbook almost as fast. Scribd is going to have to get that loss under control, and since they've decided to cull the catalog and not the subscriber base, well ...
So tell me, do you think this is going to work?
I don't. My feeling is that the smaller catalog will be less attractive, leading readers to decide to cancel their subscriptions. Yes, that will get rid of the heaviest readers but it will also drive away the lighter readers.
Scribd needs readers who only read a single book a month; they're Scribd's bread and butter. If they abandon the service, Scribd is doomed.
image by mikecogh