One Ebook Subscription Service to Rule Them All?
The ebook subscription space has grown increasingly crowded over the past couple years, with the launch of Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, Scribd, Entitle, Storia -- the list goes on. One of the first ebook subscription services in the world, Spanish-based 24symbols, is striving to differentiate itself from the pack through global expansion and a unique social reading environment. The startup has over 10 different languages represented in its catalog, and recently added 100,000 German language titles through a partnership with German mobile carrier Mobilcom Debitel. Co-founder Justo Hidalgo says more partnerships with publishers and mobile carriers are forthcoming as 24symbols works to become the leading ebook subscription service in the world. Here Hidalgo shares some of the strategy behind that expansion.
What is 24symbols and how does it work?
24symbols is a service to read and discover digital books online, based on a mobile subscription model. People can read hundreds of thousands of book in tens of different languages (mainly English, German, Italian, Spanish or Russian), and become digital librarians by crafting their own virtual bookshelves and sharing them with other book lovers.
What problem are you solving?
The thirst for ebooks keeps growing worldwide. As mobile consumption of content increases, users expect to access and share good entertainment options everywhere they go. However, high prices, unavailability, and format heterogeneity frustrate ebook readers, who either turn to pirated content, or, even worse, switch to other forms of entertainment instead of enjoying the books they want.
Therefore, 24symbols acts as a hub for book readers, providing a single place to access all the books they want, without requiring any downloads, and with high quality apps and services to provide the best reading experience possible.
How did you come up with this idea?
We came across the idea in early 2010 when we asked ourselves, "Is there a Spotify for ebooks?" At that time it was clear that there was a trend for digital users going from digital asset ownership to digital content consumption. Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Deezer were showing the way, and we believe that, even though books have their own characteristics, the trend was global for all types of cultural assets.
Who is your competition?
One always has competition. When we started, there was no horizontal subscription service for ebooks, but others like Safari already showed the possibilities, and we had to show our potential against powerful retailers like Amazon or B&N. Now we have local and global competitors like Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Oyster, Skoobe, and Bookmate. We like to see ourselves as the most international service of the kind, and our deals with mobile carriers and other partners provide us with lots of opportunities to continue our growth and provide even better reading services to our users.
What are the most important trends in publishing?
Probably the main trend I'm seeing lately is that ebooks as digital assets do not have to live alone, but can be part of more complex multimedia scenarios. This affects monetization (e.g. by providing bundles of digital content), production (by taking this trend into account when crafting the next bestseller, or the next cult title), and also in consumption (what will be the "cultural" apps of the future that connect people to books?).
The other trend I want to see is the opening of the ebook into a service --what I've called for years, quite creatively, "Book as a Service." I'd like to see a platform that can provide services like recommendations, semantic analysis, data analysis, etc., based on the book itself or the behavior of its readers. New services could be created on top of this platform by many different companies and publishers, thus enriching the publishing ecosystem in a way unimagined until now.
Our main goal now is internationalization, so you will see us in many more countries during the following months. This requires more and deeper relationships with publishers, and understanding what readers want much better. We are also working with libraries (we launched our first ebook subscription service for libraries in Spain a few months ago) and with other retailers and partners. Wherever somebody wants or has the opportunity to read a good book, we want to be there.