It is a little over a year ago when music blog Music Alley announced that the music streaming service Spotify was going to diversify beyond music and into books by adding a catalogue of more than 50,000 ebooks. Users would be able to read books on screen and listen to them via text-to-speech for free (with ads) or on a subscription base. It appeared to be an April Fools’ joke.
The reason why I fell for it, is because I believe highly in a streaming service for ebooks like Spotify. I often wonder how and when publishing will do something similar. That’s why I wrote a blog post on this topic a few months later, to share my thoughts with others. This is by far the most read and commented piece on my blog, which has confirmed my belief in a Spotify for Books.
And then, on October 21st last year, 24Symbols, a Spanish initiative, announced that they were creating a service that is almost one-on-one what I think a Spotify for Books should be like.
Six months later, last week to be specific, 24Symbols went live in beta. On their Facebook page they gave away 5,000 free invite codes for anyone interested in testing the new service. Fortunately I was quick enough to get one and see for myself what it’s all about. By now all the codes are used up and everyone else has to wait for the official launch date, which is June 30th.
How does it work? For everyone who is already familiar with Spotify, there are no real surprises in how it works. For now the service is web-only, but with the official release there will be apps for desktop, iOS and Android devices. It will be free (with ads) and subscription-based (without ads, 9,99 euro a month, 19,99 euro for three months or 59,99 euro for a year).
When you login, the ‘homepage’ features new book releases. You can switch to other sections, like Recommendations (Most read, Recommendations for you, Books you looked at), Friends (on Facebook), Favourites (books you starred) and a folder view (like Spotify) where you can list the books you want to read/are reading at this moment. Searching for a title is also possible, of course.
When you click on the cover of a book, you’ll see the title information on the right, explaining the details, synopsis, index, average user rating and possibilities to share this title on Twitter of Facebook. What works really well is that the text is text (and not a simple refined PDF file) and is adjustable in size. You can flip pages by using your keyboard, the next page arrow on the screen or by just scrolling down. You can use the index to quickly change chapters and bookmark (just as with your ereader).
One of the best things, besides the Facebook connection, is that you can select a part of the text and not only highlight it for personal use, but send it to your friends and followers on Twitter or Facebook. What it does: it copies the selected text and adds the URL to a special 24Symbols page anyone can see. A great way to spread the word (using social media) and trigger more and more people to start using the service (and of course to read the book you promoted).
Yes, but… books are not music True. And yes, reading books is different from listening to music. There are two things I have to say about that. 1) We can learn a lot from the music industry, and simply putting ideas (or trends) off with arguments that books are completely different from music is short-sighted. 2) If, or when you agree on the 1st, it’s obvious that publishing faces a lot of challenges now and in the near future. One of them is the growing market of digital reading, which requires new business models.
See this as a possible new way of ‘selling’ your titles to readers. You can choose not to. Just as you can choose not to publish ebook versions of your titles.
Not every reader wants to buy ebooks. Because, who wants to own something digital if it could also be permanent available on services like Spotify? What you see in music now, is the way people consume is changing. More and more people don’t feel the need any more to own CDs or MP3 files, they feel the need to listen to the music they want, at a location they want and on the device they choose. So, why not for books?
Who needs to take initiative in starting a service like Spotify for Books? Is it the publishers, bookstores, libraries or someone else? My guess is that the first three either won’t (as they will have to collaborate together) and/or the fourth option will. And someone else will be someone from another industry. Probably Internet/IT related. In my opinion we must not allow this to happen. So that means we, as an industry, need to start collaborating. If you look at who it suits best, I would say the libraries. Because digital streaming of books is very similar to lending books. But is it the best option? I don’t think so.
The biggest challenge is rights. And who better than publishers to handle rights? Or agents? In the ideal situation you’ll need all the rights, for all the titles in as many languages as possible and available worldwide. One of the problems with Spotify is that some tracks are not available in other countries. Simply because the rights are not covered for that territory. If a user is faced with this issue too often, this won’t work and they’ll probably look elsewhere. And elsewhere is probably one of the torrent sites.
The other challenge is money. The lack of income through a service like Spotify for Books. Recent figures of Spotify (as far as they are available) show that it results in a revenue stream that doesn’t make anyone smile up front (although not everyone sees it like that). But I think this is another challenge we have to face, namely: the income in digital is far less than from physical books.
Spotify for Books is happening, see 24Symbols. And my guess is that Amazon is planning something similar (Kindle for the Web is just one step away), and perhaps Google or Apple are too. So if publishers want a piece of this, they better hurry.
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