When news broke on Tuesday that Scribd was cutting romance titles from its catalog, all the stories focused on indie published titles from either Smashwords or Draft2Digital but the activity was not limited to just those two distributors.
At least one other ebook distributor was impacted, and Scribd has confirmed today what readers have been saying for a couple days now and what my own eyes saw in the Scribd catalog: that Harlequin, the world’s largest romance publisher, is feeling the pain as well.
eBook Partnership, a UK-based ebook distributor, confirmed that they too had received a notice from Scribd. They were unable to share specifics, but did note that they had only started to upload to Scribd fairly recently. Given that Scribd is cutting the more popular titles there is every chance that titles distributed through eBook Partnership might not have been in Scribd’s catalog for long enough to draw attention.
Similarly, BookBaby does not expect to have any titles pulled from Scribd’s catalog due to the simple fact that this ebook distributor doesn’t distribute romance titles to Scribd.
I was told that Bookbaby’s deal with Scribd initially excluded romance and erotica titles. That later changed, but those two genres were never a significant part of BookBaby’s catalog. Furthermore, BookBaby’s system is set up to restrict Scribd if the client selected erotica as a sub-genre, so it’s unlikely this distributor will feel the pinch.
Harlequin, on the other hand, is going to notice. Scribd has confirmed that titles from Harlequin, as well other traditional publishers had been removed from the Scribd catalog. This detail had been left unsaid earlier this week, but now I have been told that the “adjustments to the romance catalog are being handled identically with all publishers who provide us with romance content”.
Harlequin had signed a deal with Scribd last October to give Scribd an exclusive on 15,000 titles from Harlequin’s backlist. That exclusive had likely expired by April when Harlequin signed a deal with Playster, but the 15,000 titles still made up a huge chunk of Scridb’s romance catalog.
According to user reports, Scribd’s romance catalog had 30,000 titles before the cull. That same user reported that the romance catalog now boasts 8,000 titles.
Edit: It’s been made clear that the 30,000 refers contemporary romance, not the entire genre. But if we apply it across the genre then this is a huge reduction.
I was a little surprised by that detail; like many I was under the impression that romance titles made up a major chunk of the 300 thousand plus titles in the Smashwords catalog, and that most of the romance titles had made their way to Scribd.
I have asked Scribd to confirm this detail, but they would only go so far as to say that “we have not specified the amount of titles”.
Edit: Okay, now Scribd is willing to say that the figure is not accurate. Gee, thanks, guys.
While we won’t know the true scale of the cull until Scribd shares those figures, I do think we can point to the cause.
It would have to be that deal with Harlequin, and the subsequent promotion.
Scribd had been promoting its subscription ebook service with a 3-month free trial. It was widely available and heavily promoted by both Scribd and Harlequin. One author I know had even mentioned it in one of her giveaways.
Harlequin and Scribd were both encouraging voracious romance readers to read as much as they want for 3 months and not pay a dime.
In retrospect that was a terrible idea, but I would think that Harlequin at least should have foreseen the problems this would cause.
But would they care, and would they speak out against the idea?
No one is talking about that deal (not to the press, anyway) so there’s no way to know for sure. But it is clear from this week’s events that everyone is aware of the limitations of the subscription ebook model now.
As I and many others pointed out when Scribd and Oyster launched in late 2013, a subscription plan can’t afford to pay book publishers at the same rate retailers pay. This week has shown that the service only works until it is actually used as intended, at which point the company behind starts bleeding profusely.
The readers who would get the most value out of a subscription ebook service are also the ones who drove Scribd to cut their catalog this week. And to be clear, that was just a stopgap measure and not a true solution; those readers are still subscribed to Scribd (and to a lesser degree, Oyster) and so the problem is merely abated but not resolved.
In the long run the only solutions may be to either switch to payment terms similar to Kindle Unlimited or drop the unlimited aspects of certain Netflix-style ebook services.
TotalBoox, for example, is has developed a service where pay for what you read, but based on their recent press releases is having trouble drawing the attention of consumers or publishers. (A similar service proved unworkable when PaperC tried it a couple years ago.)
Similarly, launched with the goal of offering a much more limited service with restrictions on how much a subscriber can read in a given month.
Blloon is still in beta in the UK, but unfortunately it has gone down the same path as Scribd and Oyster. Blloon is now being pitched as an all you can read service with 700,000 titles and a cost of £7.99 per month. That is no more a workable model than the service Scribd and Oyster offer, and I expect Blloon will suffer the same fate.
image by docoverachiever