Subscription Commerce

Scribd Turns The Page On Subscription Limits

Like meal kits and box-of-the-month clubs, subscription fatigue also hits digital bibliophiles, frustrated by monthly reading limits built into their plans. This friction, says Scribd CEO Trip Adler, is what’s prompting the platform to offer unlimited digital content with additional perks. In the new Subscription Commerce Tracker, Adler explains how the company is bundling services to turn the page on a problem that plagues the $14 billion eBook industry.

The most bittersweet part of reading for passionate bookworms is when they reach the conclusion of an enthralling book. Those who turn to eBook platforms like Audiobooks.com, Downpour and, perhaps most famously, Amazon’s Audible for their literary escapes feel similarly when they reach the limits of their subscriptions. 

These services allow subscribers to access a large library of eBooks, audiobooks and other content for a monthly fee, but they frequently come with built-in plan limitations. 

The eBook market is growing and, by some accounts, is on track to be valued at approximately $14.1 billion by 2023. Unfortunately, plan limitations can create friction for subscribers who want to be able to finish a book without having to pay to reach new chapters. This can leave them wanting more from their eBook plans — which is what Scribd hopes to address. The company offers users unlimited access to its library of more than 1 million eBooks and audiobooks for $8.99 per month. The company’s CEO, Trip Adler, recently spoke with PYMNTS about keeping subscribers engaged and fatigue-free, and why Scribd does not consider password sharing to be problematic. 

Turning the Page on Subscription Fatigue 

Subscription fatigue isn’t just a problem for meal kits and box-of-the-month clubs. Content platforms can lose subscribers if they get overwhelmed or bored by their offerings. Adler says Scribd addresses this by bundling additional benefits into its plans, including a subscription to The New York Times. Such an offer, he noted, makes the literary subscription service more enticing. 

“Consumers are getting fatigued by there being so many subscriptions. There are a lot of services, and consumers don’t want to own too many,” Adler said. Partnering with news outlets like The New York Times adds additional value to the offering. 

“There might be some consumers who don’t want to buy one subscription service,” Adler said, “but if they get two as a bundle, it suddenly becomes [more valuable] to them.”

Packaging additional perks into its subscription plan is not the only way Scribd is demonstrating its value. The company shifted away from its credit-based system last year and instead launched its “Unlimited*” plan, which grants subscribers access to all of the content available on the platform. Adler said the shift away from credit to an unlimited model is meant to help subscribers discover more content while removing the barrier presented by credit-based subscription plans. 

“By making content unlimited in a subscription, we are able to provide a much better user experience where our users can freely discover and explore all the content we have, which is a much better experience than using credits,” he said. 

Subscriptions Without Limits (Kind Of) 

So far, the unlimited plan appears to be paying off. The company reached a milestone of 1 million subscribers earlier this year, and Adler attributed a decrease in churn rates to the Unlimited* plan. 

“[Unlimited*] caused an increase in engagement, which caused an increase in retention,” he said. 

The plan does come with an asterisk, however, as a small share of subscribers can consume much more content than average within a month, making the unlimited model cost-ineffective. 

“We have some extremely voracious readers who will read a really large amount,” Adler noted, adding that this level of consumption can undercut the model’s sustainability. 

For this group of “voracious” readers, Scribd will temporarily reduce library access for a portion of the month, meaning some titles will not be available to them until the end of the billing cycle. Adding limits to the consumption levels also makes the platform more attractive to publishers that want to get new and old titles in front of potential readers, Adler said. 

“By putting things in subscriptions, what happens is our users can read voraciously; they can read things they wouldn’t read otherwise,” he added. 

Embracing Password Sharing as a Promotional Opportunity 

The thrill of discovery is key for any subscription business to succeed, but when excited users share their passwords with friends, it can create a huge financial problem. Password sharing can mean lost revenue for subscription services. Hulu, for instance, reportedly loses close to $1.5 billion annually. That said, Adler pointed out that password sharing does have an upside. 

“It’s a great form of viral marketing, from our perspective,” he said, noting that shared accounts can improve retention. While shared passwords can provide readers with access to content, people who borrow a user’s password cannot receive personalized recommendations based on their tastes. Instead, they will get a mix of preferences based on the interests of all those who are sharing the same account. Adler believes this frustration could encourage password sharers to sign up for their own accounts. 

“If people share their passwords to spread the word about Scribd, that’s great,” he said. “Hopefully [those users will] sign up for their own [accounts] and get their own recommendations.” 

Many users abandon subscriptions when the novelty of the service wears off, but by raising the limit on content access, adding additional benefits to plans and viewing the potential problem of password sharing as an opportunity in disguise, Scribd is ready to start a new chapter in literature-based offerings. 

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