Ebook subscription sites are still young — both Oyster and the reinvented Scribd, which offer users unlimited access to a library of ebooks for under $10 a month, just launched last fall. In that time, one of the questions for these services has been whether big publishers would sign up. Until now, the only big-five publisher participating in either service has been HarperCollins.
On Wednesday that changed: Simon & Schuster announced that it’s making its entire ebook backlist — over 10,000 titles — available through both Scribd and Oyster. Carolyn Reidy, Simon & Schuster’s CEO, told me that while the publisher originally had “a lot of concerns” about ebook subscription services — including how authors would be paid — “we actually have come to the conclusion that this is an exciting new way to help consumers find and purchase books.” (This may differentiate ebook subscription sites from other types of book-related startups.)
A short hit list of Simon & Schuster authors who will now be available on Oyster and Scribd: Stephen King, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ray Bradbury, Mary Higgins Clark, Walter Isaacson, Chuck Klosterman, David McCullough and Ernest Hemingway. It just so happens that Stephen King is the #1 most-searched author on both Oyster and Scribd.*
Through its agreements with Oyster and Scribd, once a reader completes a certain percentage of a book (the companies wouldn’t disclose what that percentage is), Simon & Schuster is paid the same amount as it would receive if the book were sold through a regular retailer. In other words, once sampling hits a certain threshold it counts as a sale. Oyster and Scribd both have different terms for different publishers, and big publishers are likely getting the best terms.
“Because consumers pay their fee up front, they can test authors without any risk to themselves,” Reidy said. She thinks services like this will connect readers with books that they wouldn’t have found otherwise, “either because they’re not on shelves or because they’re lost in the large online retailers. We think it will actually help them experiment more, find more and aid our sales.”
Reidy also stressed that Oyster and Scribd will share data on reader behavior with Simon & Schuster, and that “could be extremely valuable in the publishing of our books. It was another great argument for entering into the subscription services.”
The three other big-five publishers — Penguin Random House, Hachette and Macmillan — are not yet making any titles available to an ebook subscription service. As publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin has pointed out, Penguin Random House, as the largest book publisher in the world, could conceivably start an ebook subscription service of its own.
*Here are the full top-10 lists of most-searched authors on Oyster and Scribd. I was surprised by how different they were. Oyster’s list contains more general, big-name fiction authors, while Scribd’s list contains a lot more romance authors.
Most-searched authors on Oyster:
- Stephen King
- John Green
- Sylvia Day
- Ernest Hemingway
- Dan Brown
- Janet Evanovich
- Morgan Rice
- Agatha Christie
- James Patterson
- Neil Gaiman
Most-searched authors on Scribd:
- Stephen King
- Sandra Brown
- Julia Quinn
- Sylvia Day
- Lisa Kleypas
- Abbi Glines
- Meg Cabot
- Kiera Cass
- J.A. Jance
- Paulo Coelho