Is 2017 the year that subscription reading services will get it right? Not if Scribd is any indication. According to The Digital Reader, Scribd removed digital comics from its subscription service in early December, possibly earlier. There is no announcement of the change on the Scribd website or on its blog. The Digital Reader reports that fans spoke out on Twitter that they were not happy about the change. Scribd did, however, confirm the news in a statement that The Digital Reader republished:
While digital comics might not have been popular with Scribd readers, they are gaining some traction with other providers including Comic Blitz, which launched just over a year ago and Amazon's ComiXology which launched a digital comic subscription service in May of this year.
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The discontinuance of digital comics by Scribd comes just a short time after Scribd's November announcement that it was adding premium magazine content to its e-book subscription service, offering current articles and archives from publications including Time, Money, Fortune and People.
In February, Scribd announced big changes to its subscription offering, removing the unlimited, all-you-can read feature. Instead of unlimited reading, subscribers receive Monthly Read credits that allows them to read three e-books and one audiobook every month from Scribd's library of bestsellers and award winners. Subscribers still have some unlimited reading options from a rotating selection of titles chosen by Scribd editors. In 2015, Scribd limited romance titles available to readers, causing an outcry among subscribers.
Also, in 2015, competitor Oyster was purchased by Google and subsequently shut down just months after competitor Entitle shut down, according to Publishers Weekly. These drastic changes in the e-book marketplace seem to indicate that the subscription reading service model is not working as it is.
Mobile reading is still popular, but services like Scribd have to find the right price point and the ideal product mix that works for the company as well as its subscribers. Right now Scribd boasts 80 million monthly readers, but is that total sustainable and how many are paid subscribers? As Scribd takes away services from its subscribers, will Scribd's readership be impacted by its remaining competitors Kindle Unlimited and Barnes & Noble's Nook?
In the meantime, CNET reports that Scribd is offering a special promo through Groupon – a free, three-month subscription – to new customers. Perhaps they'll convert enough trial customers to make the promotion worthwhile.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for Scribd or any other e-book provider. Publishing – whether digital or print – is a complex, multi-faceted industry with many players involved, including everyone from the author and publishing company to the bookseller and reader. Services like Scribd have to figure out the magic formula that will work for their company, and adjust content and pricing accordingly. This process takes time, and it seems to be a moving target. What works now may not work a year from now.
In the meantime, our recommendation to Scribd and other services like it is that they be transparent with their changes. Nothing irks a customer more than discovering that a favorite product or service has been removed without any formal notification. We don't know if Scribd's comic customers were notified or not, but even if they were notified, it would have been helpful for Scribd to have posted an announcement on their blog to explain the change.