Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy

Today’s blog is a guest post from Nadine Vassallo at BISG.

This month, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) publishes the results of the industry’s first major research project investigating subscription models of selling digital books.

When we launched this project, we chose the name Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy because a “new subscription economy” is exactly we’ve seen emerge in other industries, and what made BISG members identify subscriptions as the next disruptive technology in publishing. From the way we watch TV and listen to music to how we access vehicles when (and only when) we need them, consumers expect new modes of access and a range of options beyond traditional ownership.

As shown in the chart below, publishers agree. The vast majority of US publishers surveyed (83.2%) believe ebook subscription businesses will play an inevitable role in the market, and most (66.5%) see this role as a positive one.

Question: How do the following statements best reflect your feelings on the future of subscription models for digital books?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, and—so far—no “Netflix of ebooks” has taken hold. Instead, we see a number of different models emerging, from large collections of open-access content to pay-per-view and rental options.

Casual readers might prefer access to a broad selection of titles, while passionate enthusiasts will require a deeper selection within their preferred subject area. Similarly, for price-sensitive consumers, an “all-you-can-eat” model at a low price point may be preferable, while researchers seeking specific works for reference may accept higher prices for more focused collections. Ultimately, the services that flourish will be those that best meet the individual needs of readers.

While they may accept the inevitability of subscription, publishers are not without their worries. Their biggest concern was customer preference for ownership of—rather than access to—content; 64% of publishers cited this as an important concern. Publishers in different sectors, such as education, professional, and trade, also expressed preferences for different models.

Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy is a landmark research study produced by BISG in conjunction with THA Consulting and Publishers Communications Group (a division of Publishing Technology). The study consisted of extensive background research, a wide survey, and interviews with key stakeholders across publishing as well as other content industries.

To learn more or to order a copy of the report, please visit: