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The Future of eBooks? Streaming is Now 21% of Music Revenues in the US

streamingonefifth[1]One of my unanswered questions at the moment concerns the ebook subscription market. While some companies like Safari Online have been in this market for nearly a decade, the market really only took off in late 2013 when Oyster and Scribd launched competing services.

It’s too early to guess make any reliable predictions as to how this market will grow, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss the matter. And today I came across a chart which will add to the debate.

Earlier this week Digital Music News posted a chart from Statista which detailed the rise of streaming music as a share of overall revenue for the US music market:


This chart caught my eye because streaming music is the closest analogue to subscription ebooks that I can find in the music market. It’s not a perfect analog, but there are enough functional similarities between, say Pandora, and Oyster that I think it’s worth looking at streaming music with the viewpoint that this could be the future of ebook subscriptions.

Can you picture a market where 21% of the revenue comes from access and not sales?

I have my ideas, but I want to know what you think.


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jjj May 16, 2014 um 2:31 pm

Isn’t this what public libraries do? Give you access to content for free. Going backwards and making access to information and culture more difficult is a really bad thing.For books we used to pay for ownership, paying for access is a huge setback for a society.
That aside, if the service would be free and ad-supported it would be an acceptable solution.
You always have an economic aspect and a social aspect and sadly nobody gives a damn about the social aspect anymore. Lets all be fat and dumb ,as long as someone makes a few $.
What kind of demented society doesn’t make textbooks free online? So we should be thinking less about money and more about sanity.

Irish Imbas May 16, 2014 um 4:31 pm

An interesting analogy but it’s difficult to compare and contrast without a better idea of the consumer profiles for each product.
The big difference between a book and a piece of music is that the latter product is shorter lasting and more immediate (although with more repeated use, probably), therefore I think you’d see a lot higher consumption there compared to books. To use a very generic (and baseless) example, if the people who consume music are younger, tech literate and music has high value to them this might mean they are very different from the people who buy books (or at least certain genres of the book market).
I’m sure somebody out there has enough survey or sales data to makes this comparison. Would be interesting to see what they come up with.

Ebook Bargains UK May 17, 2014 um 5:07 am

We would envisage a future where subscription and library ebooks are heading onwards fifty per cent.

Unlike music, where most people listen over and over to the same item, most people that buy books to read once and move on, or maybe return years later. In the old world they at least had something tangible to have on the shelf to reminisce about or to pass on to friends or resell.

Why would anyone spending more than ten bucks a month on ebooks want to pay Amazon or Kobo or whoever for a licence to read a book they will never own when they can read all they want for a fixed fee or a token library fee?

At the moment the retailers have the edge in that subscription and library services are still new and unknown, and they don’t have the same range of titles. But that’s changing fast.

Both Scribd and OverDrive have impressive international reach, growing by the day., and their catalogues are growing fast too.

The big retailers will no doubt always have the advantage of getting big-name releases first, but as more and more readers grasp the simple fact that they are just buying a licence so more and more readers will turn to access options.

The more Amazon plays hard-ball the more appealing the alternatives will be to the big publishers.

Subscription services and digital libraries are the new black, and by the look of things Scribd and OverDrive will be where the action is.

Felipe Adan Lerma May 17, 2014 um 9:13 am

Potentially great debate coming up in June between pro & con folk on both sides of the subject :

My own reading on the subject, beginning when I needed to decide whether to join in with Smashwords to distribute to Scribd and Oyster, came up with the idea that book subscriptions, though similar to music streaming, were closer to Netflix’s model.

My personal reading experience, on both platforms, seems to support that idea.

Now, how that will translate to authors, which I am also 😉 is still unknown. As per this date, I’ve received no sales or views or reads data from Smashwords. Scribd does show me the number of views for a title, but it’s unknown if it’s a royalty triggering "view."

However, my view count alone is significantly higher than I guess my views to be on other platforms, but I can only guess that at this point.

Some folk, like Joe Konrath, whom I respect hugely, feel the book subscription model is unsustainable (as per a comment reply from him to me on one of his posts). And without hard data yet, that’s certainly a possibility. I don’t agree with that, but again, without hard data, hard to say yet.

That’s why I began my comment with the link to June’s debate, sponsored by Digital Book World, narrated by Jeremy Greenfield. Reps (from the pro side) from Scribd and Smashwords will debate "NPR" style vs the CEO of ePubDirect and journalist Jonathan Blum.

I make a big deal of this because, there is so much still unknown and/or unreported, and this seems like a nicely open forum for a real debate, where facts and can be compared and contrasted.

If done right, I think this debate will define, either immediately or in hindsight, the book subscription model for the near future.

For now, I’m all in with both Scribd and Oyster.

And remain in my direct sales outlets.

The Future of eBooks? – On The Digital Reader, the Conversation is Growing | Felipe Adan Lerma May 17, 2014 um 1:53 pm

[…] The Future of eBooks? Streaming is Now 21% of Music Revenues in the US […]

Alert : Announcing DBW Debates: Ebook Subscription Services | Felipe Adan Lerma May 17, 2014 um 1:58 pm

[…] The Future of eBooks? Streaming is Now 21% of Music Revenues in the US […]

Ebook Bargains UK May 18, 2014 um 1:10 pm

Given Konrath’s relationship with Amazon he could hardly say anything else.

Caleb Mason May 17, 2014 um 5:26 pm

I have doubts about sufficient subscription demand for ebooks alone but could envision a music, movies, TV, and book entertainment total package becoming viable in the future. But sadly that would mean success mostly for the largest media groups and mass market properties, which is the way the world currently operates. There will be room for a variety of good consumer buying options, much broader than in the old analog print world. 21% feels about right. Thanks for the info.

oj829 May 18, 2014 um 2:39 am

But things then start to look like cable-channel bundles, which no one likes.

Streaming music access provides instant gratification, and the market price for purchase is so low that no one bothers any longer to support DRM song purchases: tech support for millions of 99-cent purchases make no sense.

Also, free short samples of books – even tiny ones – are more satisfying and provide a better taste of the finished product – than the legally allowed 30-second promotional clips of music.

There are a million reasons why books are not music and vice-versa. I hate DRM and strip books but at the same time subscribe to mobile Rhapsody. It confuses me, let alone marketers.

Valentine May 18, 2014 um 11:47 am

Isn’t that chart a bit misleading? Considering the problems companies like Pandora have, where they pay loads more than other media outlets like regular radio stations?

After all, it’s 21% in revenues, not actual songs listened. The website has as source a statistics company that received it’s data from RIAA …

And about ebook subscriptions, I hope they’ll never take off. To make profit, they need trendy titles for the casual readers, and find a way to charge them more. For the more dedicated readers, they’ll need a very wide selection of books, and so far, I think only Amazon comes close in offering enough variety.
I read just about every possible genre, though 90% of the time it’s fiction, and … well, it’s probably cheaper to buy the books one at a time, than subscribe to every service that offers everything I want.

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[…] Future of Ebooks Streaming? (The Digital Reader) A fifth of revenue in the U.S. music industry comes from streaming these days, with services like Spotify leading the way. Could the same thing happen in book publishing? […]

This week's link herd June 2, 2014 – Zebra Eclipse June 2, 2014 um 9:47 am

[…] The Future of eBooks? Streaming is Now 21% of Music Revenues in the US The growth of music streaming, completely legal, continues at a pace. In the States streaming now accounts for more than 20%. The Digital Reader asks what this means for the future of eBooks. […]

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