If you read that sentence twice and don’t think it applies to you, you could be wrong. I just discovered lately my books have been selling more with Scribd than with Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play. My Scribd sales are also to customers in more nations than those other 3 combined! That includes places like Cyprus, Aruba, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Netherlands, Singapore.
I had no idea. And I admit my sales are nowhere near what some of the super successful indies have done, but isn’t it nice to discover sales at vendors you never thought would really have sales in amounts you’d consider substantial. Let me explain.
Since 2007 Scribd has more or less flown under the radar as a major player in the ebook industry. It was created as a means for publishing documents online for anyone to read. That included business papers, theses, poetry, comics, short stories, novellas and even full length books. These were primarily free documents, and Scribd was called the YouTube of documents since users could browse through a bounty of free items to read. That platform eventually grew to 60 million documents and 90 million users.
Authors could also use Scribd to sell ebooks. Their self-publishing platform has existed for ebooks with price tags almost as long as the DIY platforms at Amazon and Smashwords. My free and paid “documents” have been at Scribd since 2010. Early on, my freebies got read by the thousands but sales of priced books were essentially non-existent. During those years Scribd appeared to be a location where users only wanted free books. I considered it an optional place to sell, more value for the exposure than the payoff.
Then in Oct. 2013, Scribd switched to an unlimited subscription service for ebooks giving users full access to their library for a monthly fee of $8.99. The library contained not just indies but plenty of big publishers. Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan are some of the biggies offering ebooks at Scribd. The method of uploading priced content also changed, so DIY types used Smashwords and other distributors to upload their content to Scribd.
By 2014, I had almost stopped thinking about Scribd. Were they on the about to be gobbled-up list? I wasn’t the only one with concerns. Many romance writers had titles pulled from Scribd since the subscription based model proved challenging when too many voracious readers devoured more each month than Scribd could afford to pay. Authors who had books removed felt like the rug had been pulled out. Compound that with a lack of corporate communication to authors except for DMCA copyright infringement notices that sometimes were and sometimes were not accurate… let’s just say the water felt turbulent.
The crux of it is experimenting with newer business models for digital content, similar to what the music and film/TV industries have been dealing with. Vendors like Amazon and Scribd have been determining how to pay content providers (authors) in a way that’s profitable and sustainable while being good for the reader. So many questions enter the mix. How much of a book defines a full read? Should authors be paid a flat rate per page read, or a percentage of the list price, or a pool of the monthly subscriptions? While you and I have been busy writing books, vendors have been experimenting with pricing and payouts for subscriptions.
Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited gives full access to ebooks and audio books enrolled in the program for $9.99/month. KU is well established at Amazon, but it has some issues including lower payments per read and the whole exclusivity clause to Amazon that turns off so many authors and publishers. Oyster, another ebook retailer that tried subscription based selling, was acquired by Google and essentially closed doors for business. Google Play hasn’t shown intent on making its digital content subscription based, but I’ve learned many times not to make predictions with Google.
Scribd still allows DIY types to upload free content, but it’s necessary to use an aggregate source for paid content. Many authors use Smashwords for this. On the subject of the business model, Mark Coker of Smashwords said, “Oyster faced the same headwinds Scribd is facing – namely that romance and possibly other genres were too popular with their subscribers and therefore too expensive to make profitable under the current model. The solution is you either need to pay authors less, charge readers more (or limit their reading), or something in between.”
Scribd made this announcement in 2015:
As you know, in starting Scribd, we bore the majority of the risk when establishing a business model that paid publishers the same amount as the retail model for each book read by a Scribd subscriber. Now, nearly two years later, the Scribd catalog has grown from 100,000 titles to more than one million. We’re proud of the service we’ve built and we’re constantly working to expand the selection across genres to give our readers the broadest possible list of books for $8.99 per month.
We’ve grown to a point where we are beginning to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service. We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.
We look forward to continuing to grow subscribers, increase overall reading, and increase total publisher payouts in a way that works for everyone over the long term. We of course want to keep as many of your authors and titles on Scribd as we can, so we’d love to discuss our plans and how we can best work with you going forward.
Today Scribd is being called the Netflix of ebooks. Sounds like business is working. Easy for authors like me to assume upward trends when sales start trickling in where before there were none. Last month my titles had sales from the US as expected, but also Spain, Canada, India, Japan and even 2 sales from Mexico. At Scribd? Have a look at the image below from my Smashwords dashboard and let me mention a few things.
- Sales are happening in Mexico. I mentioned other nations like Aruba, the Netherlands and Cyprus. It seems Scribd is becoming popular with international readers even at countries where Amazon gives no data or has very few sales if any for the average indie author. Why are international readers important? English is the most common 2nd language on the planet with more new readers each year. A successful author is likely to see international sales continue to grow as a percentage of their income. Just a few years ago much of this wasn’t possible. Let’s hope Scribd continues to enlist international subscribers.
- Notice the middle example highlighted, where only 11% of the book was read beyond the sample 10%. It paid 30 cents. Sure, the sale fell short of full price but still earned some money on what likely would have been nothing from the reader just sampling. Personally, I like that. Others may disagree, but I’d prefer a sure-thing partial payment to the likelihood of none. The subscription model also allows a reader who is more of a browser to get further into a book than just the first 10%, which can lead to good things.
- In the bottom example 36% of the book was read, and a full payment of 60% of the sales price was paid. It only takes 20% of a book to be read (beyond the 10% sample) to receive full payment. Less than one-third of the entire book is enough to be paid for a full read. That’s good for authors in my opinion.
What does all this mean? Subscription is probably the future and it’s terrific. Or maybe it’s totally ruining the industry. It’s debatable. People are going to figure out ways to read, write, sell and design a system that supports it. As for Scribd, it’s thrilling to see sales where before there were none, and it could be a business model more retailers adopt. I’m hoping it continues to grow.
How are your books doing at Scribd? Are they selling better these days, or do you still have romance/erotica titles that haven’t made it back on their shelves?
Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments section.
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