On April 30, Scribd, which launched its “all you can read” $8.99 per month ebook subscription with HarperCollins as the first Big Five publisher last fall, announced a deal that brought 1,000 Wiley titles to its subscription service, including all those in the “For Dummies” series.
Founded in 2007 by Trip Adler and Jared Friedman, Scribd drew users from the academic, scholarly, and library communities as a place to post and access papers, documents, presentations, and more for free worldwide distribution.
The Wiley deal was the latest in the growth of Scribd’s subscription service, which features ebooks from some 900 publishers in addition to HarperCollins, among them Lonely Planet, Open Road Media, Sourcebooks, Workman, and Kensington, as well as self-publishing platform Smashwords.
“Our focus now is expansion of the kinds of books we’re offering,” Scribd CEO Adler told LJ. The “Dummies” titles will appear under Scribd’s reference category as well as on the homepage. Adler said Scribd’s subscription service is “a perfect fit for [Wiley’s] educational and instructional books…. [W]hat could be more convenient than having all the information you need, right in your pocket?” Scribd titles are compatible with iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire, as well as accessible via desktop computers.
Scribd was not the only ebook subscription service to add the Wiley titles. On May 8, Oyster, which began in summer 2012 and charges $9.95/month for its unlimited subscription, said it too had made a deal with Wiley for the “Dummies” series. (See LJ’s infoDOCKET for Gary Price’s take on the implications of subscription services on libraries.)
Unlike Scribd, Oyster titles are only available via iOS, though CEO Eric Stromberg told Bloomberg TV’s Pimm Fox that Android would be added later this year. Oyster also announced the addition of numerous publishers’ titles, including 11,000 from the HarperCollins backlist. HarperCollins told LJ that Scribd had many more titles and that none of the Oyster titles were unavailable on Scribd.
While Scribd continued to build its fee-based service, its free model grew to some 50 million documents, available in 80 countries worldwide. Oyster is United States only. “We have 80 million users,” said Adler, “29 million in the [States] alone. Subscribers are 60 percent U.S.; free users are 25 percent U.S.”
“We’re a new model for the market, a new kind of library,” said Adler, who didn’t see any competition with public libraries. “There’s going to be a lot of different channels for books. Libraries are a way of getting books and other content in front of people and getting people to read more. We’re just a new way for people to read books. We’re helping people to read more.” Adler didn’t rule out a library connection at some point and said he’s open to exploring one “down the road.”
“Most of our growth is by continuing to improve the product and making more books available,” he said. “That’s our goal now.”
Big data reading trends
Scribd’s broad reach has enabled it to gather international data on ebooks and digital reading habits. On April 23, the company posted an infographic entitled “Reading Around the World: What Your Country Says About Your Reading Habits.” The graphic gave four data points: Popular Books by Country, Reading Speed by Country, Most Likely To Finish a Book, and Most Popular Book Genres.
Whatever your opinion about the ability of big data to reveal trends, the stats themselves are often intriguing. As Julie Haddon, Scribd marketing VP, put it, “Did you know that Germans are zipping through books faster than anyone in the world? Or that Canadians are the most likely to read a book all the way till the end?”
The United States didn’t fare quite as well. It came in 14th in reading speed and fifth in most likely to finish a book. Haddon told LJ that the data was based on 80 million Scribd users in 100 countries and that “our data science team evaluated millions of data points.” For those concerned about literacy in the United States—like librarians and publishers—the numbers might give pause.
This story has been updated to remove the phrase “and still only” in reference to the Big 5 publishers, since Simon & Schuster is now participating as well.