MIP 2014: On Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy

In English Language by Erin L. Cox

New research on subscription ebook models from BISG shows publishers are still reticent, while consumers who embrace the model continue to buy books.

By Erin L. Cox

MIP 2014Last Thursday afternoon, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) hosted their annual conference, Making Information Pay, at the Jacob Javits Center in conjunction with BookExpo America.  The focus of this year’s conference was “Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy,” which is the basis of a new research study BISG commissioned, which will be released on June 16th.

Ted Hill of THA Consulting conducted the research in partnership with Publishers Communication Group, a division of Publishing Technology, and gave some highlights of what the research study revealed. Surveying publishers, Hill found that most of the concerns from publishers are about the cannibalization of other high-value markets and customer acceptance of this model.

Jonathan Stolper, SVP of Client Services for Nielsen BookScan, shared their findings about book subscribers. Like early adopters of other technology, book subscribers tended to be young, male and tech-savvy, but huge growth will be seen in the next 12-24 months. What Nielsen discovered in their research was at odds with the fears of publishers…the 5% of book buyers who subscribe to a book subscription service continue to spend money on one-off book sales – $45 dollars more.

In the two panels during the conference, panelists from various subscription models or publishers who use subscription services answered the concerns that publishers voiced. Richard Nash, VP Partnerships for Byliner, shared his confidence that subscriptions led to book discovery, while Andrew Weinstein, Vice President of Content Acquisition at Scribd, reiterated that subscription services are not trying to cannibalize book sales, they are merely offering readers more opportunities to read.

Randy Petway, COO of the Advance Division of Publishing Technology, concluded the day by reminding the audience that book publishing and its customers do not exist in a vacuum. So much of our lives is run on a subscription basis—gym membership renewal, anti-virus protection, even grocery orders-—and customers have certain expectations for what those subscriptions will provide, particularly in media.  Subscription models remove cognitive friction and allow for book discovery and readers taking a chance without having to reach into their pockets to purchase a book. What Petway also reminded the audience was that it is easier to nurture an existing relationship with a reader than create a new one, which is what you do with one-off book sales.

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox has worked as Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives. She is a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.