New services are appearing weekly and all offer to either,
save publishing, or redefine it within the new digital world. This last week
has been no different and has seen three new services gain visibility, drive interest
and create a significant volume of debate amongst the industry thinkers, and advisors.
What is now interesting is that services are being launched
with outside funding and these are not only different, but are potentially very
disruptive in how they challenge the way we do business and interact within the
Are objective today is not to decide the winners and losers
but to explore some of the challenges and their potential to disrupt tomorrow.
Humble Bundle create a package of ebooks from different
authors and offer these at a consumer driven price. In other words the consumer
chooses how much they want to pay. If they pay more than the average payment
they can receive additional ebooks and they also get to choose how their money should
be divided. The files themselves are DRM free.
We all remember the famous event when Radiohead did the same
consumer driven pricing for their album release, ‘In Rainbows ‘. Some gave a cent, others paid a responsible
sum, others paid a fee aligned to the standard RRP. It caused a stir, gave
Radiohead loads of publicity and as a one off promotional exercise and
according to who you listened to, worked, or didn’t.
Humble Bundle are doing
the same in other media sectors with their ‘brew’ bundles and now have extended
it to ebooks. The collection on offer featured books by the likes of Cory
Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, etc. The titles offered are mainly backlist
with the exception of one new Tor title.
Some may be forgiven to thinking that the children had
actually taken over the chocolate factory.
The ebook bundle certainly gives new meaning to the term ‘net receipts’
and raises many questions on rights, other renditions and the model’s
sustainability if it were widely adopted.
Cory Doctorow claims combined sales have exceeded $400k.
However how many of the bundle have or will be read and what is the percentage
that is merely there to pad out the bundle to make it look attractive? Are the receipts
spread evenly or do they go to the better known authors and to the detriment of
It certainly is a great promotional way to sell backlist,
and maybe mix in some front list to add spice. It would also work were there is
a clear genre attraction, but is it just another Groupon in the increasingly ‘Voucherclouded’
world? We can only read one book at any point in time and a bundle would
suggest a high percentage will be mere shelf fillers to aid a promotion.
When ebooks are being sold at 97% discount, you can’t blame
Humble Bundle’s for asking , how much?
No it’s not the latest swipe card for London Transport, but
a new start up which offers a different sort of a potential ‘pearl’ to
It is not the first, nor will it be the last start up to
offer ebooks under subscription. However, it’s well funded and determined to
push the increasingly visible issue of ‘licence versus ownership’ . Oyster claim
to be the new ‘Spotify for ebooks’ and we can’t argue that this make sense and is
However, just as Spotify have found in changing the music
culture, there are many questions and
challenges Oyster now face in its drive to change book culture.
Oyster offer a ‘much
as you can eat’ for a straight monthly subscription. This makes good sense but
we are all constrained by time and they are highly unlikely to have the field
The subscription has
to offer a true value statement and match or compete with the current high
discount offers in the market. This is becoming increasingly difficult as some
front sellers are being discounted at ridiculous levels such as 97%. The
traditional retailers can easily undermine the Oyster offer by heavy discounting
on the leading titles and Oyster’s ability to respond may be somewhat limited.
The next challenge is on range. If Oyster offer the full
range, then how will they be seen as different and what compelling reason will the
consumer have to tie themselves into a contract as opposed to playing the
market? They could ‘twig’ content and feed vertical niches, but as readers are
eclectic in their habit, they will fall into the hole the big book clubs did
They could align with vertical interest groups, but today they have
not said this is a route they are planning to take.
Then we have the commercial model and rights whether these
sales fall under business as usual, subsidiary sales, or whatever. Asking publishers
to revisit contracts can be a big negative and roadblock to getting content.
Therefore publishers need to be able to square the subscription model against their
The subscription model is logical in a licenced environment
but changing culture is not easy and the digital market has a reputation in
being somewhat fickle even if there may be a pearl in the oyster.
Finally we come to what may be the most contentious of the
start-ups, Bookshout. The new operation is attempting to aggregate readers
ebook libraries, by what some may described as the back door.
A member gives Bookshout their Amazon, Nook and whatever logon
details and allows Bookshout to use
these to effectively log on and verify their purchased ebooks. Bookshout then sets
up copies of these ebooks on their service, enabling the reader to be
effectively device and retailer independent. The new copy is provided by the
publisher on the basis that Bookshout has established proof of previous
purchase. Bookshout can not only consolidate a reader’s library onto their
platform, they can also consolidate reading information and activity
information and feed this back to publishers.
Obviously, Bookshout retails ebooks in their own right too.
Questions remain as to what DRM they are using and how what
is effectively therefore a fresh licence can square with the like of the lack
of a first sale doctrine on media today. The publishers appear happy , BookShout
are happy, but how long before Amazon and Nook shut the back door? It somewhat
like making a business on stealing someone else’s sale and expecting them to
Who does the customer have a contract with?
Obviously, their unique proposition is based on the member being
willing to give them their personal access credentials and that the publishers
accept that they have established proof of purchase of the original licence.
Most importantly it is also based on them being able to operate, within what
some may say, is a loophole in Amazon’s and Nook’s terms both with publishers
and their consumers.
So is Bookshout the reading platform for all? Will it be the
place of choice or merely somewhere one goes to aggregate their library? It may
depend on how many people have ebooks from both Amazon and Nook which no one
today can really answer but is a big question on which to build a business.
The interesting thing is that all three if successful are
disruptive, but how do we measure success and is it sustainable or merely a
flash of first mover excitement?