Publishing: The Online Libraries of the Subscription Super-Highway

Nils investigates the world of publishing and online libraries!

You might think with the amount of media choice out there these days that the past-time of reading is dying, and the publishing industry is slumped to its knees, drowning in a puddle of ink-stained tears and begging for mercy.

Well – think again.

In the US alone, publishing industry statistics show that revenue is projected to reach nearly 44 billion dollars in 2020, a significant increase from 2016 and a trend reflected when compared to the global picture. The industry has realised to survive it must diversify, with the last decade welcoming audiobooks, e-books, apps and a mastering of the online retail boom.

Heightened online publishing capabilities mean bookworms are suffering the same affliction befalling TV nerds – a barrage of choice. So, with production still remaining steady, one of the most interesting developments in the industry is distribution methods, to which industry heads can only look to services like Spotify and Netflix for inspiration, and have.

“Perlego is a digital library of academic texts”

Scribd and Amazon Kindle Unlimited are the leading two book streaming giants in the industry. Operating as digital libraries, both have managed to cut deals with the leading publishing companies to offer millions of titles in the e-book and audiobook formats.

The market is currently dominated by Amazon and Scribd, with the former third option, American based company Oyster being squeezed out of operation in 2016. It’s left a myriad of digital publishing subscription services fighting in its void, finding various niches in the market that the bigger boys have either overlooked or simply don’t see as particularly lucrative.

An example of such a service is Perlego, aimed specifically at University students and touted as “the Spotify for Text books”. Started by former Cambridge students Gauthier Van Malderen and Matthew Davis, Perlego is a digital library of academic texts, offering students unlimited access to over 200,000 texts for £12 a month. Its founders started the company after growing frustrated with the extreme costs involved in buying books for the school year.

“the subscription model seems to be the perfect fit for the digital publishing industry.”

With all the other expenses involved in University life: socialising, rent, sport etc. they found they were often spending £300 on titles, reading a few chapters and then never using them again. Perlego aims to solve that issue by offering students a complete digital library for a monthly fee less than the price of a single text book.

Perlego’s cost effective nature reflects the biggest pull the publishing subscription model and e-book revolution holds – they are in general cheaper on the consumer. Not only do you have access to more texts for less, because of the lack of printing costs, the price comes down even further. Add to that less wastage on thrown away books and a solving of storage limitations, and the subscription model seems to be the perfect fit for the digital publishing industry.

It isn’t all positivity for literary subscription service; Amazon, in particular, has been accused of taking too much of the royalty share from each book download, with their algorithms and systems for paying authors per pages read coming under consistent criticism. Perlego tries to combat this by paying 65% of the revenue to the publishers, which in turn means more money for authors.

“publishing in general is surviving simply because of its ability to diversify”

Additionally, as with all online ventures, streaming services and downloads mean books are now at risk of pirating issues in the same way films and TV shows often fall foul, meaning a net loss for everybody. Still, regardless of the financial implications, some people oppose online book subscription services based on purely puritan reasoning. They argue the gradual digitization of the publishing industry is endangering the very existence of physical books. But this is untrue.

Though Scribd and Kindle Unlimited are gaining popularity, major trade publishers are hardly taking to streaming like major record labels did 5 or 6 years ago. In fact, 2016 figures showed a 17% drop in e-book sales, whilst print sales increased by 8%, a trend which continued into 2017. The truth is the print industry and publishing in general is surviving simply because of its ability to diversify and exist both physically and digitally.

What happens next is unclear. Will we get a single Netflix or Spotify for reading, or will Scribd and KU continue to share the spoils? One thing is for sure, whether we’re streaming them or not – in 2018 the book is doing just fine.

Nils Berg

Featured image courtesy of  Kurtis Garbutt via Flickr. Image use licence here.

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