Bookworms Should Worship Scribd

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 19, 2018

Scribd is to books and audiobooks as Netflix is to movies and television shows, and Spotify is to songs and albums. For $8.99 you get all the books and audiobooks you can read or listen to in a month. The complete variety of its offerings is somewhere between Netflix and Spotify. I consider Spotify at $9.99/month the best bargain on the planet because it provides nearly every song or album I ask from it. Scribd has about 80% of the books I read for book clubs or hear about word of mouth. It has around 25-30% of the older titles I want, but that’s better than Netflix. Plus Scribd offers magazines, sheet music, and single documents. Here’s my home screen.

Scribd 800

Every month I realize the value of my $8.99 subscription more and more. Yesterday I got a sale announcement from for about 500 books. I love these $4.95-6.95 sales, and usually, load up. I told myself I could buy ten of them. I selected 17 to whittle down, but before I did I checked Scribd. All but one was there. This left me in a quandary. Did I spend $60 and hoped I eventually get around to listening to those books or did I take a chance they’d still be at Scribd when I wanted them?

I usually end up listening to one or two books a month from Scribd, and two or three from Audible. This might change. At $8.99 versus $20-30 (I buy the annual 24-pack of credits so my Audible books are $9.56 each, but single purchased credits are $15, which would be $30-45).

I’m in two nonfiction book clubs. Saturday night my face-to-face book club picked Sharp by Michelle Dean. The ebook version was at Scribd. White Trash, Bad Blood, and Educated, the last few selections I remembered were there too. I’m also in an online nonfiction club too. I’m listening to our current selection, American Wolf as an audiobook from Scribd. Next month’s read, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution is also at Scribd, as was last month’s selection, Fascism by Madeleine Allbright. We’re now nominating books for the next three months. Here are the books at Scribd that’s among the nominations:

  • The Tangled Tree by David Quammen (audio)
  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (audio)
  • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford (audio, ebook)
  • Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (audio, ebook)
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (audio)
  • My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (audio)
  • Disinformation by Ronald J. Rychlak (ebook)

The nominated books that weren’t at Scribd are:

  • On Paper: The Everything of its 2000 Year History by Nicholas Basbanes
  • The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston
  • Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors by Sarah Stodola
  • Essential Essays Adrienna Rich

For months now, the books we actually select with our voting end up being on Scribd. However, this is only for nonfiction. I’m not in a general fiction book club. But for my science fiction book club, Scribd does well on new science fiction titles, but less well for older titles. The book we just picked for January, Noumenon by Marina Lostetter is available in both ebook and audiobook at Scribd.

I’ve always been a book hoarder, squirreling away books for the future. Now I need to rethink my book buying habits. I’ve practically stopped buying CDs because of Spotify. The only DVDs I buy anymore are rare titles for my western collection, everything else I stream. Is it time to rent my books too?

Every day I look at ebook sales from Amazon, BookBub, Early Bird Books, and LitFlash. At $1.99 I can’t resist a great book I think I want to read. But subscribing to Scribd is like having my own gigantic library with instant access to books and audiobooks, far more convenient that my local public library.

But owning books is so fulfilling! At $8.99 a month, even if I just used Scribd to preview the books I want to buy it’s a fantastic bargain. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, don’t think it compares to Scribd. Amazon doesn’t provide access to the books I want at Kindle Unlimited. Amazon seems to use up-and-coming writers and self-published books for its subscription service. And that’s a good thing for new writers, but it’s not what Scribd is doing. If you belong to a book club you really need to check out Scribd.

The reason I’m writing this essay is selfish. Scribd is just hanging on. It’s been reorganized several times. Several other book rental companies have come and gone. All are being squashed by the Amazon juggernaut. I want Scribd to survive and thrive so I will always have access to it. Give it a try if you love books.

I’m still crazy about I’m not going to abandon it. I’m a big fat bookworm, so I think paying for both is worth it. But for people who think is too expensive at $15 a month, they should consider spending $8.99 a month at Scribd. It’s a much better bargain.




Ebook Economics

Big name authors are making ebook marketing deals like Open Road Integrated Media and Odyssey Editions, while Amazon claims they are selling more ebook titles than hardbacks.  Is there an ebook gold rush?  Is 2010 finally the year of the ebook?  I’m meeting more and more bookworms with Kindles and Nooks.  I ordered the new third generation Kindle the day it came out, and lucky for me, because it sold out in a matter of days.

If everyone reads on an ebook reader does that mean printed books will go extinct?

On several of my online book club groups we have been grumbling because of rising ebook prices.  Ebooks used to be like paperbacks – far less glamorous than hardback or trade editions.  After the Kindle came out, ebook editions started coming out concurrent with the hardback editions, but priced at $9.99.  Can you imagine in the old days if new books were published in hardback and mass market paperback on the same day?  Which would you have bought?

Are cheaper ebook editions published the same day as hardbacks too good to be true?

Publishers now want more money for ebooks because ebooks are replacing hardbacks, as well as trade and mass market editions.  It used to be you bought the expensive hardback because you wanted to be among the first to read a book.  Sure there are book collectors, but most people just give away their hardbacks when they finished them.  Publishers want the most money for a book when its new, even if its in a digital edition which has no collector value at all.

It’s now possible on Amazon to find Kindle editions more expensive than hardback editions?  WTF?  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  What will be the new cheap mass market paperback edition then?  If everyone reads ebooks will they slowly drop in price as their sales dwindle?  Instead of waiting for the paperback edition, people will wait for the $4.99 digital edition.

What does that mean for new book sales, used books and remaindered books?  It used to be if you waited a few months you could buy a new hardback marked down for a fraction of the original price.  $35 books would go for $7.99.  Or you could go to a used bookstore or a library book sale and get a copy even cheaper.

If a bestseller sells a millions digital copies, how many used and remaindered books will show up for sale?  Will physical books from before the ebook era become more valuable as less books are published on paper?  Or will people just prefer a Kindle edition?

I’m in four online book clubs and I try to read one or two each month.  Some books I can get at the library, but often I can’t.  My choice is to buy either new or used.  I can generally get used hardbacks cheaper than new mass market paperbacks.  But if I had a choice between a $5 used hardback and a $5 download I’m going to pick the download for the convenience.  However, if the choice is a $5 hardback or a $9.99 download my decision gets harder.  The idea of having a 3,500 book library on my Kindle is cool, but not when I think it will be $35,000.

I’ll never need 3,500 books on my Kindle.  I read about 50 books a year, and even if I live to be 90, that’s only about 1,600 books, but still $16,000 at $10 each.  I could save a lot of retirement money by going to the library or shopping for used editions.  But what if used editions disappear?

Here’s where the pricing of ebooks will effect me.  I want the latest yearly edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois.  At Amazon, it’s $26.40 for the hardback, $14.95 for the trade paper, and $9.99 for the Kindle.  If I wait it should show up at Edward R. Hamilton for $2.95-4.95.  Amazon has for years stopped me from buying it from my local bookseller because of the huge discount.  The trade paper is $21.99 locally.  If I want this year’s edition now, the ebook is $9.99, which is $12 cheaper (not counting tax) locally, or $5 cheaper from Amazon. That’s a pretty good deal.

But book publishers are balking at selling new books for $9.99.  If the Kindle edition was the same as the trade edition, wouldn’t it be logical to get the paper edition?  I could give it to a friend when I’m through, or donate it to the library.  But would I pay the same just for the convenience of having it on my Kindle?

Authors are flocking to agents to get special deals for their back list of books.  Royalty rates are 25-70% for ebooks compared to 8-12% for printed editions.  I wonder if writers would prefer to sell a million digital editions or a million hardbacks if they ended up making more on the digital edition.  I’m sure hardbacks will always be the most prestigious format.  Or will it matter?  I’ve bought hundreds of hardbacks I no longer own, maybe even over a thousand.

I’m starting to meet people that didn’t buy books before that are buying ebooks because they can read them on their iPhone.  That might be a novelty thing, or it might be a trend.  You have to carry your phone everywhere, but carrying a book everywhere can be a pain.  And if you are in the mood for a book and don’t want to wait for Amazon to mail you one, or find it at a local bookstore, will you just take the easy way out and buy a digital copy?

But look what happened to audiobooks.  Years ago about the only kind of audiobook that were for sale were miserable 2 and 4 cassette abridged editions that went for $25-35.  If you wanted unabridged editions you had to pay $50-$150 from a specialty seller.  Or rent them for $20-30.  Now I get digital audiobooks, unabridged for $9.56 apiece.  That’s how digital audiobooks have changed the economics.  But I buy my audiobooks from (owned by in 24 credit packs.  If I got them one a month they would be $16.  Audible is forced to sell a few titles for 2 credits per book, but I won’t buy those books.

You have to be crazy to buy CD audiobooks nowadays.

I’m thinking ebooks will shake out the regular book business too.  Non-fiction might hang in there because beautiful picture books look horrible on ebook readers, even the iPad.  Bookstores might focus on non-fiction.  And non-fiction books are the kind I like to see before I buy too.  I’m more likely to buy non-fiction locally, rather than order from Amazon.  Unless it’s $50 locally, and $22 from Amazon.

There are several economic revolutions going on at once with books.  When they come out with a digital ebook reader that makes non-fiction books look better than paper, that will cause another revolution, especially with textbooks.

Amazon is making deals with writers to sell classic old books for $9.99 for the Kindle.  Here’s a list of some titles to consider.  These are famous literary titles like Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie or The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer.  $9.99 seems too high for these old titles.  But the cheapest paperback of the Mailer book is $12.24.  Amazon also sells used paper editions starting at $4.86, but most sellers want $3.99 shipping. 

Thus $9.99 becomes a very interesting price point.  It’s cheaper than new paper, but slightly more expensive than used paper, but it conveniently goes on the Kindle.   If I searched around at used bookstores I might find a copy for $2-3.  But if I buy the $9.99 copy, Mailer’s estate gets a royalty, and Amazon and the publisher make money.  It stimulates the economy.  Plus it will sit patiently in my Kindle library not taking up any shelf space, not requiring any effort to move if I move, so it’s sort of appealing at $9.99.

Will low price and convenience kill off printed fiction?  But then, with ebooks, fiction should never go out of print.  In the end I predict ebooks will kill off the mass market paperback, seriously hurt sales of the trade edition, and hardback sales will be geared towards book collectors and libraries.  Slowly, the used book trade will retool for selling to collectors.  I think new books will sell for more than $9.99, that books that were sold as trade editions will sell for $9.99, and that as sales fall off ebooks will migrated down in price to be lower than the average cost of today’s mass market book.  We’ll eventually see $.99 – $2.99 specials.

JWH – 8/10/10

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