The uninformed may fulminate about how publishers are parasitic middlemen, but in point of fact my publisher does a lot of work for me: Editing, copy-editing, art and design, marketing and publicity and distribution. I argue with my publisher on what my cut of the takings should be (these are called negotiations) but there is an exchange of services. So what is the exchange of service a subscription model would offer me? Does it offer enough to compensate for another potential slice to be taken out of my income? Does it offer enough to replace or at least augment the distrubtion model which already exists, and from which I benefit?

–John Scalzi looks for the value proposition.

For the record, I think Scalzi’s formula is right but his maths is wrong, i.e. he’s right to ask “what value do subscription services offer me [the author]”, but I think he’s wrong in the “slice to be taken out of my income” comment.

Or, I dunno. Maybe not. But if it really is “maybe not” then it’s because of the privilege Scalzi enjoys by being an established brand (and, to a lesser extent, the demographics of his target market). Basically, there’s an assumption in here about money coming in from “specific readers”, i.e. people who are looking to specifically obtain a Scalzi book, versus “general readers”, i.e. people just looking for a book.  Authors whose sales tip towards specific readers probably would, in fact, do better on average with raw sales rather than subscription royalties. But authors who are still mostly getting sales from general readers–and these are going to be the midlisters and debuts–would, in my opinion, gain advantage from the discoverability of being involved in a subscription service.

Maybe the solution in here would be to only include some of an author’s books in a sub service; the first n in any ongoing series would seem to be the sweet-spot here, similar to how selfpub authors traditionally use free book promos. That way you can (hopefully) get readers hooked on the “free” first read enough to cough up for subsequent instalments.

Of course, this is sort of irrelevant under KU’s current model for tradpub books (full royalty either immediately or after 10%). A model which is probably 99% of the reason why Big 5 publishers don’t have any incentive to officially join the program; Big 5 knows they have the content Amazon needs to attract people onto the KU platform. At the moment (standard caveats about posts queues, etc.) Amazon is including that content in the service as if any read counts as a full sale. There is no negotiated term Big 5 could make with Amazon that would be better than this, meaning, as it stands, they have no incentive to participate as official partners. If the service proves successful, I’m sure this will shift, and Amazon will start locking Big 5 books out unless the publishers sign official agreements; inevitably ones on worse terms than what they’re currently getting.

Big 5 have been lagging behind the ‘Zon at every turn so far, so I don’t hold out much hope this one will be different. The wildcard here will be whatever Apple does with Booklamp, particularly given their relationship with the Big 5 seems to be more amicable.

No matter what happens, I think the bottom line is that ebook subscription services are shaping up to be the Hot New Disruption. Resist and perish, and all that.

(Sorry, libraries…)