Subscribe Me to Your Leader

Angry Robot—a British Sci-fi publisher—has recently made the headlines of some trade magazines by coming out with a subscription model for their e-books. The subscription will work like this:

a one-year subscription is £69 (about $110)—about a third less than it would cost to purchase all of the titles individually. Subscribers get every Angry Robot e-book published over the next year—a minimum of 24 titles.

If we publish more than 24 books between the start and end of your subscription, you will get those free of charge.

Subscribers also get a discount on backlist titles which means if part 2 or 3 of a series are being published and are part of your subscription than you can pick up the first of the series at a lowered price.

Obviously this model is not new. Harlequin has been leading the way in digital distribution with their own subscription model. I believe it has been quite successful for them. Angry Robot mentions that things are going great out of the gate for them as well. Editor Lee Harris says:

Angry Robot had “sold enough subscriptions to beat our store’s e-book sales for every other month this year.” He also notes, “The subscription becomes cost-effective for the reader at about 15 titles, so for those who would have probably read fewer books, we’ve sold a few extra titles, and for those who would have bought more, we’re rewarding their loyalty.”

And that is the only way this is going to work—loyalty. The question is will people renew their subscriptions after the first year? That of course is always the question. I know many a magazine subscription has come into my home and the magazines never get read so that when renewal comes up I just think “Meh, I’ll buy the issues I really want to off the shelf.” With a subscription you are locked in to the content whether you like it or not. That just isn’t the way I buy books. But I am only one voice, one reader, one customer and one non-subscriber.

Is the subscription model something that general trade publishing can act on? It seems like subscriptions work now when the thing being subscribed to is a niche and that’s because discoverability is still a problem for e-books. I question subscribing to one publisher though. Surely the opportunity is for someone to come out with a subscription model like the good old mail order book clubs—an email e-order e-book e-club—e-maybe?

At any rate I don’t think the Angry Robot news is that revolutionary. It may be a great new revenue stream for them and their e-books but it will only last as long as people read and that is where “free time,” competing entertainment and distribution models (other sci-fi book clubs?) come into the equation.