Scribd Cuts Back Romance Catalog for Being Too Popular

E-book subscription service Scribd is dramatically reducing its catalog of romance and erotica titles, reported Smashwords, an indie e-book distributor. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker received a letter from Scribd with the news earlier this week. He quoted the letter in his blog post about the situation:

“We’ve grown to a point where we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service. We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.”

Scribd laptop

Scribd currently allows subscribers unlimited access to more than a million e-books for $8.99 a month. Publishers and authors are paid an amount similar to what they’d receive for a retail book based on the percentage of the book read. Because readers of the romance genre are often voracious readers, they are reading more than their “fair share,” and Scribd can’t sustain itself with the sizable payouts for content read. Publisher’s Weekly calls this move by Scribd “the first serious setback to the viability of the e-book subscription model.”Coker estimates that 80 to 90% of Smashwords’ romance and erotica titles will be dropped by Scribd, including many of the distributor’s most popular titles. He believes that books priced at $3.99 and under are probably safe, but higher priced books won’t survive the cuts.In spite of the bad news, Coker puts a positive spin on it, noting three pluses:

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  1. The remaining romance titles will likely gain readership.
  2. Free series starters will introduce new authors and series to readers, driving up single-copy sales.
  3. Scribd is working through its growing pains, so that it can sustain itself financially. Scribd’s success is good for everyone – Scribd, publishers, distributors, authors and readers.

Coker recognizes that Scribd has to stop the bleeding to remain viable for the long haul, and he said changes were inevitable. He is opposed to lowering payments on a “per read” basis, because it devalues the work across the board. Instead, he recommends a tiered subscription where average readers pay $8.99 a month and subscribers who read more pay a higher monthly subscription fee.In its analysis of the situation, Nieman Lab compares the current Scribd all-you-can-read model to Netflix. Instead of paying studios “per view” of a movie or program, Netflix acquires content by paying for licensing rights for a set period of time.Insider Take:As Coker points out, Scribd has been experimenting with the subscription model since its launch in October 2013. He doesn’t believe Scribd has found the right formula for success yet, and if Scribd is reducing its catalog for an entire genre, he’s probably right.We agree with Coker that reducing payouts “per read” will be damaging to publishers and authors, devaluing their work. Coker’s suggestion of a tiered system sounds like a viable solution. The question is how receptive to such a system will subscribers be. Will Scribd lose current subscribers if it raises it prices, or if they have to pay more to read more? It’s hard to say.Ideally, Scribd will make incremental changes and test different solutions and price points at each stage, gathering both quantitative and qualitative data. This will help ensure there won’t be a mass exodus of subscribers before Scribd designs a solution that works for everyone.