Major online bookstores and e-book subscription sites often have to walk a fine line between a large library and quality content. There is something very alluring about establishing partnerships with self-publishing services such as Draft2digital and Smashwords. They both have over 225,000 titles combined and can instantly make a startup very relevant in terms an overall catalog. Scribd though, is bucking the trend and has just announced plans to cull their catalog of self-published books.
Scribd was one of the early pioneers of the Netflix for e-Books concept and raised millions of dollars to convince publishers that there business model was viable. The company engaged in a partnership with Smashwords in late 2013, which added a few hundred thousand e-books into their library.
e-Book discovery has been the most talked about subject in the last three years. How do you balance a large catalog of content, while showcasing things that are relevant to the reader? Amazon spends untold millions on improving their algorithms with recommendations and social book discovery networks. For everyone else though, its a slippery slope balancing bestsellers from major publishers and hundreds of thousands of self-published titles.
Scribd has announced that they have had enough and are banishing over 200,000 self-published books from their catalog in the coming weeks. They plan on still maintaining a robust catalog of romance books and will manually add and remove books to keep that section fresh. Almost every other genre though will be a victim of the “great self-publishing purge of 2015.”
Smashwords will be hit hard by the news that their e-books will be gone from Scribd. CEO Mark Coker said “We’re a profitable business without any contribution from Scribd. Scribd is our fastest growing retailer over the last 12 months, but they’re still smaller for us than iBooks, B&N, Kobo and the Smashwords store. We have a sizable catalog of free books, and many of them are series starters, so those will ultimately drive readers to our retail partners. I also expect some percentage of Scribd subscribers to cancel their subscriptions and return to single-copy sales at our retail partners.”
I think Mark might be dreaming if he thinks even a single customer will cancel their subscription with Scribd to buy Smashwords titles from other bookstores. The entire reason why e-book subscription sites work is that you get a ton of value for your money. Why buy two e-books a month, when you can read as much as you want for the cost of one?
It is important to note that one of the best advantages Scribd has is their robust audiobook catalog, which is very compelling. The company has been tweeting out that they have the new E.L. James Grey audiobook available for all of their members, which has likely resulted in thousands of new signups.
Scribd CEO Trip Adler posted a state of the union address on his companies blog which sheds light on exactly what is transpiring.
“Today, we’ve heard several friends in the Scribd community who have voiced concerns about our commitment to the romance genre. Let me state loudly and clearly that we remain committed to our romance audience.”
“Romance has been one of our top genres since day one, and we’re so proud that we’ve attracted such a passionate, voracious audience of readers. We’ve grown to such a point that we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to grow in a sustainable way. We are in the subscription business for the long haul, and while we are facing some growing pains today, we remain fully committed to our readers.”
We’re a business in uncharted territory, and as any successful startup business knows, innovation requires iteration, and that’s the process we’re going through now. We’ve extensively explored a variety of options, and we feel this solution has the potential to best serve our audience. We believe that the end result is going to be a thriving romance section with a terrific selection that will be sustainable in the long run for readers, publishers, authors, and for Scribd.”
I have to give Scribd a large amount of kudos from recognizing the fact that a very large catalog does not mean success. A smaller store, filled with great titles and a vibrant romance genre is the key to success. If you can offer a compelling value proposition for the average reader and not have the entire site cluttered up with indie author rabble, likely Scribd will be around for a very longtime.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.