Is “Spotify for Books” Possible?

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

The concept of cloud reading, also known as “Spotify for books,” sounds appealing, but has different implications depending on your position in the market.

By Javier Celaya

MADRID: During most of the meetings I held with national and international publishers at the last London Book Fair earlier this month, I was asked by many what my thoughts were on the profitability of future business models based on the concept of cloud reading or streaming, also known as “Spotify for books.”

I replied that there were several answers to this interesting question. My opinion on the future book subscription model depends on whether I were to reply as an avid reader who is prepared to pay for content on the Net, as a widely recognized book author or as a new author who would prefer to be widely viewed among readers and secure an income for the sale of his/her creation. My opinion on the Spotify for books concept is also very different if answered from the standpoint of a publisher, a bookseller or a librarian.

Reader Perspective on “Spotify for Books”

As an avid reader of e-books, I would be delighted for a website to offer me the possibility of gaining access to a vast amount of books without having to pay a cent for them. If the free reading of all the new books would only imply having to view advertisements within texts from time to time, many readers would probably be prepared to pay that “price”.

Readers of online magazines and newspapers have been reading all kinds of free content with advertising insertions — it should be borne in mind that these means have more screen readers than their paper versions; it would therefore be easy to assume that many readers would be prepared to read free e-books that incorporate advertisements.

Only a small number of readers who may be sensitive to online privacy would consider the supposed free nature of an e-book a high “price” to pay. These readers simply do not want their online purchase and reading history to be re-used for commercial purposes. What many readers in the analogue world would never allow -– e.g. for their bookseller or librarian to sell their reading history to a publishing house –- would surprisingly be allowed in the online world in exchange for free e-books.

Without realizing it, we are creating a new, rather unequal, digital society where readers with higher spending power will be able to enjoy all kinds of books without advertising insertions, whereas people with a lower budget will have to relinquish various of their rights as citizens to obtain limited access to the book world. To avoid an injustice of that nature, it is to be expected that the competent authorities would demand that companies who wish to re-use their users’ reading history with a view to obtaining advertising profits should previously inform such users of the kind of information which will be saved on their platforms, the length of time it will be kept, as well as the commercial purposes they will be used for. There is no reason why these new business models should have to affect the rights we have acquired throughout history as book readers or jeopardize our rights to privacy as citizens.

Author Perspective on “Spotify for Books”

Depending on the type of author you are, you will be more or less eager for your work to be included in a book catalogue of free access.

If you are a young, new author who is more interested in being made known among readers than living from novels during the initial steps of a promising literary career, you will be delighted to be included in a book catalogue of free access. You will possibly be discovered and read by many readers. However, you will earn little money through the alleged proceeds generated by online advertising.

If, however, you are an author who is broadly recognized among an extensive and faithful number of readers, you will negotiate higher compensation with your literary agent or publisher for assigning your digital rights to platforms of that nature. If your publisher and the company managing the Spotify model for books were to gain profits derived from the traffic your work may generate on the platform, you would claim part of those profits as the author. However, various reports have revealed that the amount of money made for potentially generated traffic is small.

To enable companies to establish their own criteria on the alleged projection of advertising profits generated by on screen reading, I decided to publish my book La empresa en la Web 2.0 (Companies on the Web 2.0) in Google eBooks. My book has been viewed via this platform over 112,000 times, a rather respectable number in terms of traffic; however, my income as a result of online advertising only amounted to €4.07 as you will note from the right-hand table.

Undoubtedly, one of the reasons the third edition of my book in paper has sold out is due to the large number of people who viewed my book on screen (I would also like to mention that a fourth, updated and re-mastered edition will be published in Autumn), but it has also been demonstrated that online advertising will never be a sustainable source of income for creators, whether they be authors or musicians.

Although the music industry enjoys greater popularity than the world of books, according to various sources, the income obtained from online advertising on Spotify is also extremely low for musicians. According to those reports, musicians make from €0.0003 to €0.0085 each time their song is heard on Spotify. To earn a monthly income of up to €1,000 -– as you can see the “mileurista” (person who earns a monthly income of €1,000) concept has failed to disappear with the arrival of the digital society — a musician would have to generate traffic in the nature of more than 725,000 tracks listened to per month: a mission impossible for most creators.

Last, but by no means least, apart from deciding whether to have their books included in catalogues of free access on the basis of assumed profits, many authors will also have to analyze the impact of advertising insertions on their reputation as creators.

We are accustomed to seeing advertisements in newspapers and magazines and on radio and television but their presence in the book world is still a novelty. Many authors will wonder what kind of advertisements will be inserted in their books. If the plot of a detective novel takes place in Bilbao, will the advertisements refer to trips to Bilbao or restaurants in Bilbao, as in the case of Google? If one of the characters in my novel is gay, will there be advertisements related to the homosexual scene? If I mention a certain car brand in my book, will there be all sorts of advertisements in relation to its different models? These are some of the questions various writers are asking themselves since most of them consider that their work would lose credibility and prestige via the insertion of advertisements.

Within this same background of uncertainty, many publishers are asking their own questions: Will competitors’ advertisements be published in my authors’ books? Can I limit advertising intensity in my books? Can I decide the content of advertising insertions?

As I mentioned before, we are allowing the creation of a very unequal digital society where readers with higher spending power will be able to enjoy screen reading without advertising interruptions whereas those with a lower budget will enjoy a very different experience since they will have to put up with several advertising interruptions. The platforms assure that advertising will not be intrusive but we all know how annoying online publicity can be as a means of drawing our attention on a screen.

Is this the kind of digital society we wish to create? Will authors encourage social inequality by allowing these platforms access to their work in exchange for ridiculous advertising profits? We must remember that we are confronted with the first defining stage of the digital society model. What we do, how we do it and the decisions that are made during this first stage will have a huge impact on the future. As citizens and readers, our purpose is to guarantee that the public interests of our future digital society may stretch beyond the financial interests of companies, however legitimate they may be.

Tomorrow, we continue this discussion by considering the publisher’s point-of-view.

Javier Celaya is the vice president of the Spanish Digital Magazines Association (ARDE), Director of the Digital Publishing Master of The University of Alcala (Madrid) and CEO and founder of Dosdoce, an online portal analyzes the use of the new technologies in the cultural sector and publishes annual studies related to trends in the Spanish publishing sector.

DISCUSS: Is it Time for Publishers to Offer Advertising in Books?

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Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.