It’s official. The last pillar keeping the e-book from taking over the universe has arrived in the form of a “Netflix-like” subscription, offered by Oyster. For $9.99 a month, you get unlimited access to a library of e-books.
Now, it’s not like this particular service is going to take over the universe. A paltry 100,000 titles, most of which are trade paperbacks, will impress no one, but, given enough time, I believe this subscription model will become the bread and butter of the publishing industry, and yes, that does mean replacing the hardcover book. Let me explain why.
For starters, this unlocks the e-book reader’s full potential. When I bought myself one, I was immediately impressed by it, but I also understood instantly that without a subscription service its potential would be limited and sales would plateau, which they have. Many agents, authors, and editors attribute the leveling off of sales to the superiority of the hardcover book model, as many readers “simply prefer” to hold a book.
That is not the reason sales have stalled. That’s a reason hardcover books will never cease to be. The reason the e-reader’s sales have flattened is because it is the theoretical reverse of a book, forced into a business model the technology is poorly suited for. Books have always been about preserving content indefinitely. E-book readers can be used that way, but their strong point is delivering disposable content on demand. Comparing an e-reader to a book in terms of how long the hardware will take to buy itself back and become “a savings” really misses the point because the e-reader doesn’t try to replace books, but replace what publishers were doing with them.
The most important reason, however, is that a subscription-based business is much lower risk than a sales model. Think about it: with the subscription you have a backlog of content to float ongoing risks with. It doesn’t matter if some of your present projects don’t pan out because most readers will still have things you are offering they want to read on the backlog, encouraging them to renew even if the publisher has a dry-spell of new titles for them. The subscription will really take the weight off publisher marketing divisions.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion column. Opinions expressed here may or may not reflect those of the University Press of North Georgia.