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Are Scribd and Oyster Losing Customers Left and Right?

kindle unlimitedAmazon may be expanding Kindle Unlimited this morning but reports are coming in that their competitors in the ebook subscription market aren’t doing so well. posted yesterday that one market researcher is seeing a precipitous decline in Scribd and Oyster’s subscriber base (via Google Translate):

In buchreport.webinar via subscription products for e-books of the US-market researchers showed Peter Hidick-Smith (Codex Group) that Amazon’s competitors in the United States between the fourth quarter of 2013 and the spring of 2014 "dramatic" subscriber losses recorded, including  Oyster ( -63%) and Scribd (-50%).The Codex-founder leads this finding might, that the subscription services operated at the end of 2013 and have experienced a lot of marketing media reporting what was then subsided. Amazon on the other hand have won with the precursor model of "Unlimited", the "Kindle Owners' Lending Library," 55% more users.

I first read that report yesterday, and immediately followed up with an email to Peter Hidick-Smith with a request for more details. He didn’t respond (again), so there isn’t much that I can add to the report.

But based on what I can see here I do not believe this report is true. Assuming that Google Translate, the reporter who wrote the original piece, or the process of transcribing  possibly misspoken word into text didn’t introduce errors, this report simply isn’t plausible.

The first and biggest problem with this report is that the startups only launched their services in the 4th quarter of 2013, and so they went from having having no ebook subscribers to at least having some.  The claim that the numbers would decline precipitously in the first 6 months beggars disbelief.

What’s more, Scribd offers a service which is available internationally, so any market research based on poling US consumers is woefully incomplete. And then there is the fact that neither Scribd nor Oyster could have lost customers to Kindle Unlimited during that period for the simple reason that it didn’t exist yet.

Update: Speaking of introducing errors, Felix just pointed out that i was misreading the excerpt, which says that KOLL was stealing away subscribers, not KU.

In short, I am ignoring this report until I get more data.

Second Update: Scribd has denied the accuracy of the report:

We are puzzled by the the buchreport webinar report of a drop in Scribd’s subscriber numbers, which is simply incorrect.  Scribd’s subscriber count has grown consistently every single month for the last 12 months.  In fact, growth is accelerating – last month we added more subscribers than the prior two months combined.

And now Oyster is disputing the report:

The report isn’t accurate. Oyster has seen an average of 25-30% monthly growth in our subscriber base since launch, and the rate has accelerated in 2014 as we’ve added content and expanded to new platforms.

P.S. And just to be clear, I am not saying the data is bad; there are any number of things that could have gone wrong, including transcription, transmission, and translation errors. I just think this report is bad, and since Peter isn’t taking my emails I can’t identify how it is bad.

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Frank Skornia September 24, 2014 um 10:31 am

I think it’s also hard to make a judgement on these services this early in their development. Trying to compare year-to-year numbers now is tough because likely a lot of people signed up at the start to see what this new-fangled service was like and left when it didn’t meet their needs, their free trials expired, etc. I think what we’re probably seeing is a combination of the services settling into their markets and also facing the entry of a mammoth competitor. I say let’s see what the numbers say next year before measuring their shoulders for coffin widths.

Fbone September 24, 2014 um 12:01 pm

I believe all three services offers/offered a free trial period. It’s possibly some just cancelled when the trial ended.

fjtorres September 24, 2014 um 12:10 pm

Lots of folks love "free", even for things they have no intention of subscribing to.

fjtorres September 24, 2014 um 12:06 pm

Well, the report doesn’t say they lost customers to KU, merely that KOLL grew by 55% in that span. Since KOLL is tied to Prime, which is tied to Kindle First and music and video services big growth there is no biggie.

On the flip side, it could be that a lot of people tried Scribd and Oyster and chose to drop out after finding they weren’t reading enough to justify the cost. Since both services are (still?) App-locked they are missing out on people who prefer to read on eink.

There may be errors in the reporting chain but the report is not totally implausible.

Besides, I think I saw a report somewhere that Scribd is prepping to *sell* ebooks.

Nate Hoffelder September 24, 2014 um 12:22 pm

They already sell ebooks.

fjtorres September 24, 2014 um 1:15 pm

ADEPT or app-locked?

Nate Hoffelder September 24, 2014 um 1:23 pm

Actually, I think they may have stopped. I can’t find the store anymore.

Juli Monroe September 24, 2014 um 3:24 pm

No, they haven’t stopped. They’ve just changed how it works.

Look at this link. It says the book is available as a subscription book next year, but I could buy it now for $1.99, which is the same price as on Amazon.

Nate Hoffelder September 24, 2014 um 3:29 pm

Thanks. It used to look more like a regular ebookstore. Now no wonder I couldn’t see it.

fjtorres September 24, 2014 um 5:11 pm

Heh. I got an error message.

"If you are not connecting to Scribd from within %{country} and are seeing this message in error, click here to submit a support request so we can correct the issue."

Juli Monroe September 24, 2014 um 3:25 pm

Or this one for a book which isn’t planned to be in the service but can be bought for the low, low price of $16.99 ($4 more than Amazon)

fjtorres September 24, 2014 um 5:13 pm

Do you know if the books are ADEPT or app-locked?

Olympia Press September 24, 2014 um 7:04 pm

Won’t have numbers for Oyster for a few more weeks, but definitely seeing growth from their EU equivalent. (Scribd doesn’t seem as interested in erotic content.)

Abonnement aux livres : Kindle Unlimited aurait tué la concurrence  | CCFI September 28, 2014 um 4:12 am

[…] Les deux firmes ont d’ailleurs rapidement contesté les chiffres : Scribd assure que le nombre d’abonnés est en croissance permanente sur les 12 derniers mois, et que, sur le mois d’août, la firme compte plus d’abonnés qu’en cumulant juillet et juin. Oyster affirme que la croissance mensuelle est de 25/30 %, avec une véritable accélération en 2014. (via The Digital Reader) […]

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