A Spotify for Books

I’ve been using Spotify pretty religiously recently, and it’s amazing.  So amazing that it sort of seems like it should be illegal.  What is Spotify? If you’ve ever used iTunes, it’s like that, but with access to everyone else’s iTunes library at once – including your own.  Yep, it’s like having access to all of the world’s music for free.  Yes, it doesn’t have everything, but it has plenty.  Unless you’re the type of person who needs to physically own an album, you can have access to it immediately, whenever you want.  I used to be that person – in the age of of LP’s and CD’s: I wanted to own things.  In the age of the mp3, I care much less.  I just want access to the music.

The subscription service cuts out the ads and allows for more streaming, but it’s not entirely necessary.  And Spotify is putting limits on the amount of free listening available to appease record companies, so things could change.    Spotify ‘could be dead within a year’ says one article that’s more than a year old.

Understandably, people are worried about its impact.  Spotify could do to iTunes what iTunes did to brick and mortar record stores.  Worse is the impact it’ll have on musicians.  Artists make around a penny per play on a song – which for an independent artist is not going to amount to a hell of a lot.  Already, music labels crack down on music blogs by making them take down a posted song after 7 days, or be guilty of copyright violation.  With Spotify, the song’s always there.  Sure, you don’t need to download it – but you don’t have to if Spotify is acting as your iTunes.

An argument can be made that Spotify expands the base of people who can find a band.  There is some evidence that Spotify is leading to more sales, but to me that seems like short-term thinking.  Once the CD is dead, and everyone’s got a tablet or smartphone, this is the way music will be accessed.

So what does this mean for books?  Currently, there is no book subscription service for books.  Kindle released their cloud reader, but this is more of a way to compete with Apple for purchases – it doesn’t offer free access to books that haven’t been bought.

Enter one contender:  24 Symbols.

The Next Web reports (emphasis added):

Launching with a modest library of 1000 titles, 24signals features a range of classic books along with commercial releases from a number of small and medium-sized publishers. The idea is simple enough – you log in, look for a book you want to read and then… read it! Like Spotify, there are no restrictions – you can simply hop around between titles as much as you like. Facebook integration adds a social element, letting you get recommendations from your friends.

The product of a Spanish team, the Web-based service is working to a freemium model, offering a free, ad-supported version along with an ad-free option in return for a monthly payment prices at either €9.99 per month, €19.99 per quarter or €59.99 per year. The startup pays publishers based on how many pages users read from their books as a proportion of the overall number of pages read across all titles.

This is just one start-up (which now has an iPad app, so it’s not just browser based) so there’s no telling if this will become the Spotify of books.  But someone will.  And this will change publishing, just as it’s changing the music industry.

At the same time, the monetary model is curious – honestly I don’t have a clear idea what that means.  If a self-published writer gets 5000 readers compared to a million for Stephen King, what does that mean in terms of royalties? Whatever this figure is, the amount of money could be a lot less than the 70% offered by the Kindle, so it’s not necessarily something to rejoice about.  But it will be a significant way that people access books. If you have a choice between a Kindle store where you can only read 20-page samples, and a Spotibooks app that lets you read entire books, which one will you choose?

Beyond piracy, this is the thing that publishers have likely been fearing most, so they’ll fight it.  Self-publishers shouldn’t necessarily fear it – if the revenue model is fair.  Somehow that doesn’t seem entirely likely unless you’re getting a lot of reads.  Best case scenario is that a writer makes less money per book, but gets more readers.  But that’s to be determined.  This is a work in progress.

  • Henry, with you giving your ebooks away, and some of the rest of us reducing our prices to $.99, wouldn’t we welcome a huge number of people who felt they so desparately needed our works they’d resort to “stealing” them? I imagine we can only applaud our technical friends who’ll make this possible.

  • I’m very sorry. I meant, bowing down to my lord, “desperately.”

  • Not for me. I read their contract for publishers and wouldn’t go near this with a 10 foot pole.
    Well, not unless they sharpen their pencils really well and then launch with the success of Facebook. Then, maybe I would consider it.