Scribd Dials Back Its Audiobook Service

5013445218_a744ca2941_oWhen Scribd culled its romance catalog a couple months back, I predicted that the ever-popular SF&F category would be the next to go under the knife. I was wrong.

Scribd quietly announced on its blog late Friday night that it is imposing a quota on audiobooks. Starting 20 September, subscribers will be limited to listening to a single audiobook per month, and they will also have the option of buying additional audiobook credits for $8.99.

Scribd also promises that they will offer "a rotating catalog of thousands of audiobooks for unlimited listening" which "are being made available through special arrangements with publishing partners".

The subscription cost will remain $9 a month, and the ebook access is not being curtailed at this time. Scribd is merely taking steps to make their audiobook catalog less attractive to subscribers. (Scribd wants subscribers to pay $9 to listen to a second audiobook, when you can often buy an ebook+audiobook bundle in the Kindle Store for not much more.)

This is the second time that Scribd has cut back its service in the last couple months, and it is also the second time that one of Scribd's bold moves has backfired.

Scribd's first mistake was in signing an exclusive deal with Harlequin and then actively recruiting romance readers in late 2014, only to discover in June 2015 that romance readers inhaled so many novels that they were draining Scribd's coffers.

Scribd's second mistake was when they signed a deal in November 2014 with Findaway to add 30,000 audiobook titles to Scribd's catalog. To give you an idea of how bold that was, Kindle Unlimited had around 2,300 audiobook titles at the time (4,500 now).

As I suggested at the time, KU carried fewer audiobooks because they had a higher unit cost:

I would bet that Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited with only 2,300 audiobook titles because audiobooks usually cost 4 times or more than the price of an ebook. This suggests that an unlimited audiobook subscription plan is simply unsustainable at Scribd's $9 a month or the KU's $10 a month.

Both of Scribd's bold moves made the service attractive to potential subscribers, but they came at too high of a price. Rather than just draw in paying customers, Scribd attracted the type of customer it does not want - those who would use the service as it was intended by consuming as much content as they can.

And that's a problem for Scribd, because it has committed to paying its suppliers (authors and publishers alike) a cut of the retail price each time a book is loaned.

That is simply an unsustainable model for access-based services of any type, beit ebook, music, or video.

At this point it's clear that there are two sustainable payment models for access-based services. The first is to pay suppliers a tiny fraction of the retail price, and the other is to limit payments to a finite pool.

Pandora and other streaming music services have gone with the first model, and so has Germany's Skoobe. (According to Matthias Matting of, Skoobe pays indie authors between 20 cents and 60 cents per loan.)

Amazon, on the other hand, has been using a funding pool to pay authors and publishers ever since Kindle Owner's Lending Library launched in late 2011.

In light of today's news, that doesn't seem like such a bad model, does it?

I mean, on one side we have a service that paid out more than $33 million to authors and publishers in the past three months and generated more income for authors than they earned from the Nook Store.

On the other side we have a service that has had to cut back its offering twice in the past two months.

That's a no-brainer, isn't it?

images by ShermeeeStephen Cummings

About Nate Hoffelder (11471 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

7 Comments on Scribd Dials Back Its Audiobook Service

  1. If Scribd keeps cutting services at the same pace, in a year at most they’ll be back where they started: a humble document hosting service. Maybe they should just give up on this subscription nonsense and turn into an ordinary marketplace. Pretty sure I’d much rather pay once and download a book to read locally, without any DRM nonsense.

  2. Oh, I’m bummed to hear this… I’ve saved a bundle by listening to audiobooks on Scribd rather than purchasing on Wish that Scribd would instead offer a more expensive monthly subscription tier allowing a higher number of audiobooks to be borrowed.

  3. They don’t have to pay a tiny amount–they need tiered subscriptions. Tiered subs work for television. I know because we watch sports and it’s ALWAYS in the highest tier. If readers want audio, let them pick a plan that gives them 2 or 3 audio (or whatever) for a higher price. 9 dollars for a second book is too high of a price, but they can find some middle ground. Cutting selection is probably the worst thing they can do. For one, authors I know who were “selling” well on SCRIBD decided to just go exclusive to Amazon when SCRIBD cut romance. So they not only chased customers away, they made Amazon’s KU program stronger by driving authors to move their books there.

    I’m still there. Hoping they don’t cut cozy or paranormal mysteries. It’s been a decent retail channel for me and those of us not exclusive to Amazon can use all the help we can get!

  4. Kathleen A. larson // 7 September, 2015 at 7:01 pm // Reply

    I will have to quit. Very limited budget

  5. Really sad to say that I cancelled my Scribd subscription this morning. These changes just don’t work for me. If I wanted to pay per audiobook I would use Audible or another service who have a much better selection of books and sub options. Sorry but I think Scribd really shot themselves in the foot this time.

  6. I went thru all the growing pains even helped them work it out and then find out that it’s changed by all the books being not available???
    I think it’s disgusting!!
    I think they could have done it another way!
    I struggled to find Authors I enjoy anyway so have been using Audible as well
    I’m on Social security and have to listen because of my eye site
    But the $$$$ is the buck!!!
    So I cancelled !!!
    I really they should have let us know a different way! Oh well I wish them luck!

  7. Cancelled my Scribd membership today. The credit system is a joke for a book you don’t even own, the so called free content is nothing but a bunch of public domain stuff you can find everywhere. My county library has a deal with Amazon where I can listen to anything the library has on paper that also has an audio version available through Audible, and my tax dollars pay for it. Put my Scribd money into Kindle Unlimited this morning and am already several chapters in on a great scifi novel.

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