Spotify for Books

I’ve been immersed for the last several days in something called Spotify. It’s a music listening service. You sign up (if you just want the free service, you ask to sign up, and then they send you an email giving you the chance to do so; it’s kind of like standing in line to get a wristband to come back and stand in line to buy a ticket to a concert), download the software, and it gives you streaming access to as much music as you can possibly listen to. Cubed. Everything from new music like Lady Gaga and to musicians like Robert Johnson (not the delta blues singer; the white one) who are so obscure they haven’t heard of themselves. It’s like a giant music listening library on your computer. If you just want to sit and listen to music on a computer — any computer — it’s free, other than for sitting through an occasional commercial. If you want more bells and whistles, there are two subscription platforms which are fairly modest (five dollars and ten dollars per month, respectively) and that let you access Spotify from your Smartphone or whatever and to listen without the occasional commercial.

So I’m curious…is there a market for a subscription service this in the book world, with, of course, some fine tuning? Would you pay five or ten dollars a month for electronic access to three to six books for a limited time (say twenty-eight days)? I’m talking about a selection of books which would be basically unlimited, everything from that long lost volume of The Motor Boat Boys’ Mississippi Cruise published in 1912 to The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, which dropped this week. You wouldn’t be owning, but renting. The advantage over the library, besides selection, is that you would no longer have to wait for that new soon-to-be bestseller to be returned by the gaggle of unwashed ahead of you in the reserve queue. The advantage over buying the book outright, at least as far as the more popular books are concerned, is that you no longer are in a position of paying more for the e-book than for the physical copy.

I am well aware of the difficulties involved in such an enterprise — rights, the fixing of a subscription price, and, most importantly, how do we divide up the subscription fees among the writers? — but we’ll play with those crayons down the road. For now, I’d like to know if readers find this idea at all appealing. Do you?


20 thoughts on “Spotify for Books

  1. I know I’ve often wondered what would become of the libraries with the onslaught of the the e-books. The e-library would be such a great idea.


  2. I’m working to see if I can get rid of my TV satellite and stream Hulu, Netflix, and Free TV. So far I’m having some inconveniences, but I imagine those venues will raise their prices over time until they are price competitive, but no different than the things they replace.

  3. That’s a hell of an idea.

    Though there are countless ways to handle it, a “credits” model might be a good start. A monthly subscription gives you a handful of credits that can be spent acquiring books. Once you add a book to your library, it’s there for as long as you own the app. If you run out of credits, you can always top up for more.

    Under this model, your library isn’t limited. You can have as many books as you like, so long as you pay for them upfront (in credits) and so long as you’re using the app. It also allows publishers to set different levels of pricing, which is what the app will need in order to get their buy-in.

    (I know the economics are the least sexy part of it. But there needs to be a model that both readers and publishers like in order for this app to work)

  4. Yeah I would do it if they had good books. If it was just a bunch of random titles I’ve never heard of, then no I wouldn’t do it.

    That is my gripe with libraries. They’re only helpful if you’re not very selective, if you’ll just choose anything off the shelf.

    But if you want a particular book, and it’s a popular title, good luck.

  5. Sounds like an awesome idea!

    I think that currently, there *is* a kind of spotfy for books. But it’s for YA fiction, though. You sign up, but your request to become a memeber has to pend approval by the webmaster. (plus, you have to be a certain age and live in certain countries) Once you are accepted, you are able to read published or to-be-published books online which are posted for 60 days, until they take it down from the site. I think that the purpose of this is so editors know what kinds of books teens are into today. Oh, and you earn points by reviewing the books posted. It’s by Simon&Schuster . Link: I haven’t been on much, so that’s all I know about it so far.

  6. I’m sorry. I hate to be the naysayer, but that’s a horrible idea and business model.

    1.) You’re time-limiting someone’s access to the book, like a library, but charging them more than they would pay in property taxes. Consumer’s would quickly realize this and either 1.) Unsubscribe from the service, or 2.) Choose the lowest price point available, thus cutting your revenue stream dramatically. The site would have to depend on ad dollars to survive, and as it got less and less popular , and there were fewer and fewer clickthrus, advertisers would see diminishing returns in marketing on it. So eventually, you’re trying to maintain huge database servers with modest to low revenues and a shrinking customer base. Chapter 11 would be calling shortly thereafter.

    2.) What’s to stop libraries, Amazon, major bookstore chains, etc. from retaliating against publishers who give access to their product to the service? NetFlix is dealing with this problem now. HBO and Showtime are ending their licensing deals with the service, and creating their own online services (HBO GO and Showtime Anytime). And the movie studios are requiring a higher initial price point for subscribers or they’ll walk away too.

    3.) What’s the incentive for a publisher to provide the reading material when their fixed costs may not be met within the fiscal year? This is why e-books are as expensive as they are now? If they aren’t even willing to lower their purchase prices on Amazon and B&N, why would they agree to a subscription service where they get even less money?

    4.) What’s the revenue sharing model? I mentioned the NetFlix problem above. Now that everyone knows the landscape a bit better, and the potential customer base online, what makes you think it won’t be exorbitantly more expensive to access products, even for rental?

    Sorry, but this idea might’ve been good a few years ago, but it’s DOA now.

  7. Oh yeah, and don’t forget what happened to Google when publishers thought they were trying to do something similar. Got their pants sued off.

  8. Thanks for the thoughtful comments one and all. And Fletch,naysayers welcome, as always. The jury is still out on whether Spotify will sink or swim, and it will no doubt take a while to see what will happen.

    The devil, of course, is always in the details. Where this differs from the google scheme is that there would actually be a revenue stream to the authors and publishers(as opposed to throwing things up on your e-reader for free.

    The big question, as with everything, is whether you can get posterior in the seat. Several years ago there was an experiment with e-readers that you downloaded to your computer. It quickly died. Amazon comes along with a slightly different idea after some elapsed time and the world changes.

    I don’t see this model replacing libraries at all. I would certainly use something like this Spotify for books, or whatever you want to call it, but I would still use the library for some books (and CDs, and videos) and still buy yet other books. I think a lot of folks do the same thing. They have authors they buy religiously, others they buy second-hand or borrow.

    Anyway, thank you for everyone, each and all, for commenting. I’m going to check out Lovefilm. Thanks, Elenya!

  9. Re: Lovefilm…WOW! They’ve got Luther, Series 2!!!!YAAAY!!!

    …but…It’s British and won’t let me sign up. Waaah!!! Waaah!!! I want more Luther!

    Looks like I’ll have to wait until October when it premieres on BBCA.

  10. 1. The time limitation would eliminate it’s usefulness for me. Between the day job and trying to do my own writing, I’ve read a dozen books so far this year–so not even reading 2 books a month. I already know that I have umpteen years worth of reading stored on my Kindle. It will be a LONG time before I get to it all.

    2. I’m a very picky reader, so it would depend on the available selection.

    3. In my mind, whether right or wrong, I compare “book rental” to “home rental”. If you are able, why not buy instead of rent? Granted, we don’t know what the cost of e-books is going to be down the road, but I can find many many books for under $5, and there is the aforementioned pickiness factor–I don’t tend to read the popular flavor of the month as so many do.

    What I do wish is that there was a low-cost way to get old non-fiction formatted and made available in e-book format. I have several books I use for research that were printed well before the e-book revolution and I would pay money to have BOTH the digital and in-print version of those books. Especially since library hours keep shrinking and the useful materials are harder and harder to gain access to.

    BK Jackson

  11. BK, I would love to see a format converter like that as well. MY understanding was that HP had developed one that was supposed to be on the market two years ago and which would have made the process very easy. It’s possible that someone didn’t want to make it commercially available to the public.

  12. No. I have a Nook. I understand my local library lends e-books. I still haven’t bothered to look into the details. If I want it, I buy it, I read it. Price is not the number one determining factor for me. It can be one factor. For example I probably would not have purchased Pay me in Flesh @ $ 9.99+, but I was happy to pay $ 4.76. If it had been $ 14.99, no way. I would have waited for the price to come down. OTOH if I really want to read something I’ll pony up. Example: when I got paid Friday the first book I purchased/downloaded was Ghost Story by Jim Butcher. It was $ 14.99. It nearly killed me to pay that much, but I really wanted to know what happens next in the series. Sure, I could’ve waited for a lower price, but I had to have it now. I will say that a lot of my reading purchases are impulse purchases: something sounds good to me, I’m in the mood for it, I go for it. When you have an e-reader that can connect at 2 o’clock in the morning and the e-books aren’t that expensive it’s easy to have more impulses that you can read in a given period.

    BTW yes I also downloaded PMIF.

  13. My only concern is what happened to me with Netflix. Paid a monthly fee but stopped using the service because I was so busy, I never watched anything!

    However, when I finally own a Kindle, I’m sure a service like this would be excellent. I KNOW I’d make time for reading.

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