Rapacious romance readers prompt all-you-can-read Scribd to scale back offerings

Scribd is one of the companies vying for the title Netflix-for-Books. And it's been successful -- too successful, perhaps -- with its all-you-can read offerings, particularly when it comes to erotica and romance.

On Tuesday, Scribd sent a letter to publishers explaining that it will be dramatically scaling back the romance and erotica books it offers to readers, Publishers Weekly reports. Many books that had been available through the service will be removed.

For a monthly fee of $8.99, Scribd subscribers can read as many ebooks as they like. There are more than a million titles to choose from. Scribd pays its publishers for books read in a traditional wholesale/retail model.

But an all-you-can-read subscription program is less like a bookstore than it is like a gym membership, explains Porter Anderson at Futurebook. Gym memberships are "predicated on the assumption that most subscribers will not use them, or at least won't use them with any serious regularity," he explains. "The romance-reading community, famed for its high rate of content consumption, thus is like part of a fitness club membership overrunning the workout equipment, costing the service more, apparently, than is sustainable."

One publisher, Smashwords, says that 80% to 90% of its romance and erotica titles are being dropped immediately. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker wrote a blog post explaining his take on the changes, which have only been vaguely defined by Scribd.

"Based on what I've been able to glean, the lower the [stated sale] price and the higher the word count, the better the odds the book will remain" on Scribd, Coker writes. "Few books priced $3.99 and above will remain."

Of course, users are paying a flat monthly fee, no matter the retail price of the book. They'll see their selection diminish. And writers who have published the higher-priced, longer books will see their titles -- and payments -- disappear.

"I remain a big fan of Scribd, but today's news is especially disconcerting to those of us working to promote a diverse ecosystem of multiple bookselling options," Coker writes.  "Romance represents a huge portion of ebook readership, so anything that harms romance authors and their readers is not good for the future of publishing."

Coker suggests that instead of slimming down the list, Scribd offer a tiered subscription model that would give heavy users access to more titles for higher fees -- $14.99 or $19.99 per month. That's a lot like Netflix's DVD model, where a higher rate gives you more DVDs at home -- something of interest only to a portion of its streaming subscribers.

For its part, Scribd says it is removing titles "to adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service."

Twitter: @paperhaus

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