The news isn’t exactly a surprise, since Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote in December that the publisher would be experimenting with the subscription business model. He didn’t name any partners or launch dates, but Oyster and Scribd are the best-known startups attempting to create a Netflix-style service for books. (Both provide unlimited access to a large library of e-books, with Oyster charging $9.95 per month and Scribd charging $8.99.)
Macmillan is the third of the Big Five publishers to sign on with both services. (These deals mostly involve older, backlist titles, rather than new releases.) In his earlier note, addressed to “Authors, Illustrators, and Agents,” Sargent wrote:
Many of you know that we have long been opposed to subscription. We have always worried that it will erode the perceived value of your books. Though this significant long-term risk remains, we have decided to test subscription in the coming weeks. Several companies offer “pay per read” plans that offer favorable economic terms. We plan to try subscription with backlist books, and mostly with titles that are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores. Our job has always been to provide you with the broadest possible distribution, and given the current financial and strategic incentives being offered, we believe the time is right to try this test.
Scribd says authors whose works are now available on the service include Ursula K. Le Guin, Elizabeth Bear, Orson Scott Card, Mario Vargas Llosa, Greil Marcus, and Louis Menand. Both services say they’re adding about 1,000 new titles as part of the deal.