Digital Books and Subscription Economy: Major BISG Study-2014

July 22, 2014
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Research shows that 80% of publishers believe subscription is inevitable, but responses vary by market sector

Today, BISG released a new study on subscription models of selling digital content, now available for immediate purchase here.

Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy points to almost unilateral agreement that digital subscription is already having an impact on publishing models and reports a wide range of responses. It analyzes the differing expectations and perspectives from trade, educational, and scholarly publishers, as well as those of other industry stakeholders including subscription service providers. It assesses the long-term impact of subscription models and how publishers and service providers anticipate they’ll adapt.

Len Vlahos, Executive Director of BISG, commented “Subscription models have the potential to disrupt the industry, and we’re very pleased to publish this study to provide an analysis of its implications, both positive and not, for everyone seeking greater understanding of this model and how to plan for it.”

Andrew Savikas, CEO of lead sponsor Safari, said “Safari is a success story for how publishers can use new business models to grow truly new markets. We are proud to have worked with BISG on this report to help others in the industry better understand both the challenges and opportunities in the range of subscription-style models out there, including Safari.”

 As new subscription models emerge and dominate publishing news, BISG’s timely report offers extensive data and analysis to help answer the myriad questions about its potential impact on the various publishing models. The research is based on data collected from an extensive survey from a sample of almost 4,000 industry professionals, including publishers, libraries, retailers, aggregators, and other service providers. In addition, the study includes a broad review of current subscription models in publishing and other digital media industries, based on over 50 one-on-one interviews.

Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy delves into why specific models work for different sectors and how these models depend on specific audience needs and expectations. Key factors include:

  • Consumer preferences for access vs. ownership
  • Price sensitivity
  • A preference for breadth vs. depth of selection

 The report reviews different market needs and how subscription models can meet them. For example, a professional reader looking for targeted information on a specific subject may want a subscription service that delivers a highly curated selection where price is less important. Casual readers who want a range of options in different subject areas will want a broader selection where lower prices eliminate purchase risk and encourage sampling. Consumers already accustomed to subscription for music, movies, or news and information will expect similar benefits from book subscription services.

Publishers’ responses reflect this range of needs, as the study describes in detail. It includes in-depth research and analysis that evaluates changing publishing models, the impact of subscription on discoverability, and concerns over whether subscription will suppress sales or expand audiences. The analysis supports top-line findings such as:

  • Scholarly publishers, while slower to adopt ebooks, are now beginning to offer more choices to libraries.
  • Professional publishers, with a tradition of direct-to-consumer marketing and early models of organizing information digitally, must remain ahead of workers’ changing needs and preferences.
  • Higher education publishers have long relied on rental models, which are really a version of subscription. They see Integrated Learning Systems as the future of their business. 
  • Trade publishers are careful to evaluate the results emerging from those publishers who have begun to use this model.
  • Authors will similarly benefit from business models that can bring their works to new, paying readers but share concern about the lower revenue per customer typical of subscription models. Like readers, they may wish to preserve the richness of experience, depth of thinking, complexity, and value that a full-length work provides.

 Peter Balis, Vice President and Director of Business Development, John Wiley & Sons, said, “We are very pleased to have worked with BISG on this study. In light of the growth of subscription models in other digital media, understanding the potential impact on our industry is critical to a successful long-term publishing strategy. No one is in a better position than BISG to gather and analyze this data from all sides of the value-chain to identify both the opportunities and risks.”

 Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy can be purchased from BISG as a downloadable file here. The report was prepared by BISG with reporting and editorial content by Ted Hill (THA Consulting) and Kate Lara (Publishers Communication Group). BISG thanks the study’s sponsors, including lead sponsor Safari, and the American Library Association, John Wiley & Sons, Publishing Technology, Sally Dedecker Enterprises, and Scribd.

For a press copy, please contact Jeanette Zwart at jeanette@bisg.org.

About the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. The Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG) is the book industry’s leading trade association for policy, standards, and research. The mission of BISG is to facilitate innovation and shared solutions for the benefit of all companies and practitioners who create, produce, and distribute published content, and the organizations that support them. Membership consists of publishers, manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, librarians, and others engaged in the business of print and electronic media. For over 35 years, BISG has provided a forum for all industry professionals to come together and efficiently address issues and concerns to advance the book community.

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