What Do Scribd’s New Limitations Mean for Readers?

The dream of unlimited reading is coming to a swift end for Scribd customers. The digital books service just announced that, starting next month, they’ll be switching from an unlimited books model to a “hybrid limited/unlimited model.” This is basically a convoluted way of saying that they’re reducing the overall amount of content they’re offering subscribers at any one time. So what does this mean for the service’s highly active customer base?

Currently, Scribd users pay $8.99 per month to access as many of the service’s e-books as they want, and they can choose from any title in the service’s library at any given time. Unlike their e-books offering, Scribd’s audiobooks catalogue has never been unlimited: instead, subscribers get one free audiobook per month and are required to pay $8.99 for each additional audiobook that month. For voracious audiobooks fans or families looking to share a subscription, listening to their favorite books on Scribd can turn into an expensive habit.

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Under the new system Scribd is implementing, users will get to choose up to three books and one audiobook per month from Scribd’s library. The range of titles available for “unlimited reading” will be pared down and made available on a scheduled basis, with titles being put into rotation at varying times depending on agreements with publishers. While it sounds limiting, this is can be seen as a fairly shrewd move on Scribd’s part, as it solves the problem of licensing titles that get “too popular” and end up costing the service huge sums of money in licensing fees, like Harlequin romance novels, which tend to be read quickly and in high quantities.

These changes will only affect the scant 3% of Scribd’s readership who get through more than 3 books per month, but it’s definitely ruffling feathers in the community, and other streaming services are taking note. Multimedia entertainment providers Playster have begun an aggressive marketing campaign aimed squarely at Scribd’s user base, hoping to win over the customers who are abandoning the service in search of the unlimited reading experience that it will no longer deliver.

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Unlike with Scribd, Playster’s users get access to the service’s full suite of books and audiobooks on an unlimited basis. There’s no need to buy credits or wait for content to come into rotation, either—one monthly fee gives you your choice of everything, at any time. While it remains to be seen how Playster will perform long-term, they are confident in their product, and the just-out-of-Beta service is flourishing, providing year-long subscribers with a custom built tablet and headphones, as well as offering games, music and movies as part of a fully unlimited service.

What’s clear in this situation is that streaming services have to be extremely careful about what they promise their customers. Even if Scribd’s new plan isn’t going to change things much for the majority of subscribers, the issue lies with the fact that they reneged on their promise to offer unlimited reading, which is why so many people signed up in the first place. With Playster’s whole service being predicated on the idea of “Entertainment Unlimited”, they’ll have to work hard to uphold this promise, especially considering the depth of their service offering, which spans every entertainment media type.

Planning ahead and securing the right deals seems to be the way to go for streaming services who want to earn consumer trust long-term through their service offerings. Picking content conservatively early in the game is an important step for ensuring sustainability later on. Streaming services like Playster are doing just this, securing economical deals while building a strong foundation of subscribers, and ramping up to AAA titles and more costly media while building up the revenue to back their content consistently. Early adopters, take note.

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