The subscription services step up their game

E-book subscription services like Scribd, Oyster, Kindle Unlimited or 24symbols were the big e-book news item of 2014.

Particularly the introduction of Kindle Unlimited in July caused a lot of uproar among indie authors. It continues to cause uproar, now some big names like H.M. Ward are reporting income drops due to Kindle Unlimited, while some previously unknown names (which remain unknown due to being anonymous) report that they are making bank due to Kindle Unlimited borrows. And yes, those links go to the two New York Times articles by David Streifeld, who is rather biased against all things Amazon, but at least makes an effort to hear the other side here. There’s also an article about the same subject at The Bookseller here.

ETA: Here is yet another New York Times article by David Streitfeld on the subject of Kindle Unlimited, focussing on one specific writer who’s done well with it.

One e-book subscription service that is rarely mentioned in these discussions is Skoobe, a German service that is a joint venture founded by Bertelsmann and Holtzbrinck a.k.a. two of the big five publishers. Skoobe is older than most of the international/US services, since they started in 2012. And as the backers of the company suggest, it is a lot more trad pub focussed. At the moment, the only way for indie authors to get into Skoobe is via the two German self-publishing service providers epubli (which is a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck and thus affiliated with Skoobe) and BoD.

There is also readfy, another German based e-book subscription service. Unlike with Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, Skoobe, etc…, readfy subscriptions are free, while the service finances itself via ads. I have no idea how that’s working out for them. Interestingly, there is very little concrete info about readfy out there. At their website, I couldn’t even find information for publishers and authors considering offering their books via readfy. They supposedly offer 25000 titles, though I have no idea what they are and where they come from.

Once Kindle Unlimited started in Germany in October, something of a battle between Skoobe and Kindle Unlimited developed. Here is a Spiegel Online article comparing Kindle Unlimited, Skoobe and readfy. In this comparison, Skoobe and to a lesser degree readfy beat Kindle Unlimited, because Skoobe and readfy are focussed on the German market and are more likely to have the German language bestsellers and evergreens that the Spiegel testers were looking for (though plenty of the books in question weren’t available via any of the three services). Scribd and 24symbols aren’t on most Germans’ radar, while Oyster seems to be US only anyway.

Now it seems that Skoobe is stepping up its game, because tonight I saw a commercial for Skoobe on TV, while watching the season 2 finale of Arrow. TV ads for e-readers are nothing new in Germany. The tolino alliance advertises its reader on TV and Amazon frequently runs TV ads for the Kindle and their Prime service, which seems to be languishing in Germany, because it simply isn’t a very good deal here. However, so far I haven’t seen any TV spots for Kindle Unlimited here in Germany.

So how will this battle between Skoobe, Kindle Unlimited and readfy for the German e-book subscription market turn out? I have no idea, but it will be interesting to watch. International distributors like Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Narcissus or XinXii might also consider keeping an eye on Skoobe and readfy.

As a reader, e-book subscription services are not a good deal for me, because so far they don’t seem to serve my needs and interests very well.

As an author and publisher, I of course strive to make my books available to as many readers as possible and that includes those using subscription services. Therefore my books are available via Scribd and Oyster. My books are also supposed to be available at 24symbols (distributed via Narcissus), but I have never been able to find them on that site. My books are not available via Kindle Unlimited for the reasons outlined here.

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