What is it?
If Amazon is to books what Netflix is to movies, then Scribd is more like your cable company.
Why does it matter?
Authors must consistently evaluate the book market to determine where their works are best served regarding reach and sales. Amazon is the largest player, but their “exclusive” requirements mean that to take advantage of its best features, authors must exclude other services.
Scribd is one such service. However, is placement in their catalog more advantageous than Kindle’s Unlimited program?
For most authors, maybe not, and for one particular genre—definitely not.
Long Story Short
Scribd is an ebook selling service much like Amazon, Smashwords, Nook, and Oyster. Operations began circa 20013 and a few years later they followed Kindle’s lead with their version of the “all-you-can-eat book buffet. To be competitive, Scribd priced its service at $8.99 a month (one dollar lower than Kindle).
By June of 2015 however, the payout plan and unexpected reader download voracity created financial hardship for Scribd and they were forced to change the terms. Their initial solution limited the titles offered in certain genres. Several months later they also modified the definition of unlimited.
Today, Scribd no longer touts itself as an “unlimited” membership service, but rather as a reader’s service. They promote their hybrid “less than Kindle” business model through their mission statement, which reads (in part):
Scribd: “[Our] mission is to change the way the world reads.”
Scribd claims to have 80 million monthly readers and “millions” of books or as they put it “Endless possibilities” and “Everything you want to read.”
However, if you are an author, you will discover the “possibilities” are far from endless especially if your genre is Romance/Erotica.
Scribd learned the hard way that providing unlimited downloads for a fixed monthly fee had a severe financial downside. Apparently, no one understood that book lovers are book hoarders and that readers will download far more than he or she plans to read in a month.
Additionally, like Amazon, the promise to pay authors for downloads quickly eroded any profits the $8.99 a month may have offered. If you are paying an author sixty percent of the $2.99 book price (which is $1.79), then any reader who downloads more than four books is putting you in the red.
Amazon corrected the course by changing the Author terms. They moved to a pay per page read system, so downloads had no effect on payments. Readers could continue to practice their hoarding, Amazon could continue to offer “unlimited” books at ten bucks a month, and authors were paid “when” or “if” the reader read their work.
Scribd chose a different direction.
First, they eliminated thousands of Romance/Erotica books from their catalog. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, who provided the largest number of titles to Scribd, reported that approximately eighty to ninety percent of Romance/Erotica authors had their books removed.
Why this particular genre?
Romance/Erotica readers are a different breed when it comes to consumption. The average “heavy user” reads three books a month, but Romance/Erotica readers consume as many as three per week. So to make their 8.99 packages profitable Scribd needed to put fewer titles on the buffet for consumption.
Scribd second step involved the creation of new membership terms. They now offer readers three downloads per month and unlimited downloads from titles in their “Select” program. Select titles are determined by Scribd and rotated each month.
As a consumer, unless one is taking a moral stand against Kindle, I cannot see any advantage to Scribd over Amazon’s service. In fact, it seems quite the opposite. For example, you can read the Harry Potter series as a Kindle Unlimited member, but Scribd does not offer it, and Stephen King fans will find more of his selections in Kindle then Scribd. It seems a bit crazy to save a dollar at Scribd for all you lose not joining the Kindle program.
As an author, I could not see any benefits either. It might serve up some exposure and be worth the test, but not at the expense of losing the Kindle Unlimited program.
In truth, I am not sure what “purpose” Scribd is trying to serve. Their book selection is not as good as Amazon’s, the price difference is insignificant, the downloads are limited and if not for the time I spent offering my books on Smashwords, I probably would have never heard of them.
Of course one plus with Scribd is “if” your title is in their catalog (assuming it is not a romance) and it is downloaded, you will be paid 60% of the retail price. On a three hundred page, $2.99 book that’s about sixty cents more than you would earn on Kindle if the reader read the entire book.
Additionally, if you are not exclusive with Amazon, and you use Smashwords, then there is no harm in being in their program. I will lay out my reasons why you are crazy not to go exclusively with Amazon in a later post.
As stated at the beginning of this article, an author has a responsibility to evaluate the book market continuously and determine the best course to achieve sales and exposure. Scribd as a stand-alone doesn’t appear fruitful if an author is interested in mass exposure. It may make sense for those actively marketing across many channels (Nook, iBooks, Kobe), but in a crowded book market the big question is “where do I have the best chance of getting noticed?”