The Digital Books Economy

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a series of talks conducted by the Book Industry Standards Group (BISG) and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) where we discussed the growth of subscription models in the digital books market .

There is now a massive infusion of ebooks on the market, giving us access to reading anytime and anywhere. With social media, open source textbooks, e-libraries and multiple online ebook markets, we have access to an enormous collection of works by different authors on multiple devices that have opened up our world and made accessibility much quicker and cheaper. Most book publishers, scholarly and otherwise strongly believe that “Subscription is inevitable, digital book publishing is inevitable and this will be a positive impact in most market segments”.

As we move into an economy that is adopting digital content rapidly, it’s imperative to understand the various subscription models in play, and determine which ones apply to the access and acquisition of ebooks. Digital movies and music have led this space with subscriber platforms like Netflix and Spotify. As an example, in the movie life cycle purchases become frictionless and cheaper as a movie transitions from the theater, to premium cable to subscribers like Netflix and eventually basic cable. Similar subscription models for ebooks have been considered but it comes with its own set of challenges. While a user can consume a large volume of songs, and movies within a fixed period of time, the book reading cycle is more indeterminate and can span long hours or days. There is also a strong competing factor with news, social media and blogs like Facebook, Medium and Buzzfeed, where users can access shorter reads for free and a growing open access ebooks market.

As a result, we see startups like Total Boox who have a model wherein they charge users based on the proportion of the ebook read and compensate publishers accordingly; And consulting firms like Informed Strategies who bring libraries to work together to collectively fund books, especially scholarly books, thereby giving their patrons access to a wide variety of content while staying within their budgets.

For digital ebook platforms and publishers, it is important to understand how users consume content, and determine the wide variety of channels through which they gain access to it, in order to provide them with a differentiated purchasing experience. It is also important to understand how the content can be segmented to reach the widest possible audience, thereby ensuring that revenue can be attained with volume sales or rentals.

As we think about these, what are some of the challenges that you as publishers and librarians encounter as you build and design your subscription services ? How do you see the ebook subscription models evolving as you draw parallels with the digital movie and music industry ?

You can access all the presentations at the NISO / BISG forum.

Amrita Thakur

Senior Product Manager
HighWire Press

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