Head of Original Content Development and Publishing, Scribd
Vice President of Content Strategy, hoopla Digital
How does your subscription mode (pay-per-read versus pay-per-purchase) work for you? What makes your company unique in this space?
Charlie Schroder (CS): Our approach to subscriptions is unique. We provide subscribers with one of the largest, most diverse libraries of digital content available in nearly every format. While other subscription services generally focus on one type of content, we offer a diversity that lends itself to discovery. For example, if you read an e-book, our recommendation engine will point you to related e-books, audiobooks, magazines, and even presentations. The more our readers explore, the more content they can find. It’s like a digital version of finding a new read on a bookshelf. Content diversity creates multiple reading, learning, and business opportunities for our subscribers, authors, and the Scribd community as a whole.
Brad Rose (BR): Before I answer, please allow me a quick point of clarification: hoopla isn’t actually a subscription model. A true subscription model charges a fee for access to all content available (e.g., Netflix, where the user can watch as many videos as they like). hoopla Instant is a transactional or pay-per-use model, where a separate transaction occurs with every title borrowed. To address your real question…
hoopla pioneered the pay-per-use model for libraries nearly 10 years ago. We built it because we believe that libraries should have access to all kinds of content in a way that is affordable while still ensuring appropriate compensation for publishers and authors. We really see it as a win for everyone—authors, publishers, libraries, and patrons.
Since hoopla was launched, we’ve evolved the platform to be even more nimble and flexible for publishers and libraries. hoopla Flex is our one-copy, one-user model that allows publishers to offer titles in perpetual, time-metered, or usage-metered licensing types. Publishers can choose how to engage on hoopla, which might include offering content in multiple models at the same time. It’s all about providing options and flexibility for publishers and libraries alike.
What do publishers gain using your model?
CS: Working with Scribd, small and independent publishers gain access to a global audience where millions of people can read their work. Publishers who work with us are welcome to provide their titles in multiple languages to cater to a truly global audience. Not to mention, reaching an expanded audience with our subscription model helps build new revenue streams for all publishers. This approach mirrors the rest of the entertainment industry as a whole, which is seeking opportunities to get their work in front of new audiences and diversify revenue streams.
BR: In the simplest terms, publishers gain access and visibility through hoopla. It’s no secret that libraries are the go-to resource for people who love to read and want to explore new titles, authors, genres, etc. Libraries are always seeking to serve the diverse needs of their respective communities, which includes the widest array of authors and genres. Because of the reality of library budgets, under other models, librarians are forced to make choices on the titles they believe their patrons will use the most. For some publishers, particularly smaller ones, this necessity can limit title exposure within libraries. With the hoopla Instant (pay-per-use) model, libraries can offer the entire hoopla catalog and only pay when their patrons actually borrow a title—no upfront investment, no guesswork on how popular a title will be. This means publishers gain access to a huge collection of readers who can engage with their entire list on hoopla, not just the bestsellers. Access of this kind opens the door for titles to be seen and authors to be discovered—no matter how large or niche the audience for a title might be.
Do you see any cannibalization of regular sales?
CS: Physical book purchases still dominate the medium, while subscription services like Scribd enhance the reading experience by offering additional ways to discover and consume books. Readers can expand their experience even after reading because we help them easily find related material to consume — think low-risk discovery. Readers are encouraged to try a new author without committing to a purchase, while the author/publisher is compensated by Scribd for this read. This flexibility leads readers to explore more authors, find new favorites, and buy additional books by that author.
BR: We’ve seen consistent growth of the platform overall, with e-book and audiobook publishers being at the forefront of that growth. Libraries represent the largest book club on the planet, and it’s the ultimate environment for title discovery. Our goal is to lean into this discoverability and expand reading/listening in general. Our growth would not be possible if the more than 20,000 content partners on hoopla were experiencing cannibalization. In fact, we often hear that hoopla can be a springboard for new and emerging authors. Every day we see opportunities for hoopla to drive engagement and increase readership, and we believe that partnering with public libraries (and hoopla) should be an integral part of each publisher’s distribution strategy.
How does payment work in your model? How did you arrive at that strategy?
CS: Like other subscription models, we pay publishers and authors based on individual reading activity. This approach helps create more opportunities for publishers, authors, and readers — a great way to explore a diversity of content.
BR: With hoopla Instant, our transactional or pay-per-use model, there is a fixed payment each time a library patron borrows a title, which they can access immediately with no holds. We created this model because we believe it is the most fair and equitable for publishers and libraries, and it allows libraries to offer a publisher’s entire catalog rather than selecting on a title-by-title basis. Perhaps more importantly, this creates a great user experience for patrons, which drives continued engagement. Under hoopla Flex, our one copy/one user model, libraries purchase individual titles based on DLPs provided by publishers.
How do publishers reach you to sell books?
CS: We always look for ways to expand and diversify our digital library. Reach out anytime at: scribd.com/publishers. We look forward to hearing from you!
BR: We work with most major aggregators—Ingram, Versa, Inscribe, Bookwire, and many, many more—who have direct access to submit content to hoopla. We also have direct partnerships with a small number of publishers who have large catalogs, but the quickest and easiest way to get onto hoopla is to work through a distribution partner.
Can you share any examples/anecdotes of an especially successful book/publisher within this model?
CS: We're inspired by the success stories of publishers who work with us, and it has been a joy helping them bring their work to millions of people. While we can't provide specific details of our business relationships, we know that independent publishers have flourished at Scribd. For example, one independent publisher who worked with us decided to test their work with a highly curated list of fewer than 10 titles. The publisher didn’t see cannibalization of sales in other channels. Instead, sales rose for several of their authors. Another independent publisher had a similar story, and they were so pleased with the initial results that they opened their entire catalog — as did a major publisher when they saw the global impact.
BR: We’ve had a lot of publishers that have been astonished by their library growth through hoopla. Some publishers have told us they had modest success distributing physical books in public libraries, but once they entered the market digitally on hoopla, they saw tremendous growth. This is especially true for niche and hobby-based content, where it can be more difficult to achieve scale and discoverability through physical library books. The immediate and searchable nature of digital libraries makes hoopla a great way to connect readers with the content they really want.
Another example that comes to mind is a mid-list author from a large trade publisher. She had a number of titles in print, but was seeing only minimal promotion of her titles. A few of her audiobooks were promoted on hoopla and the author began to see a big spike in popularity among hoopla users. After spending months on our “popular” list, her sales began to climb at retail as well, which eventually propelled her onto the New York Times Bestsellers list. Because hoopla offers a transactional model, we often see sales spikes that align with broader market activity with a particular title or author.
Has your model evolved at all since the IBPA panel in September last year?
CS: Our model has remained consistent, and we’re always exploring new content opportunities.
BR: The model is still very sound. hoopla continues to see growth across both the hoopla Instant and hoopla Flex models, which we expect to continue. With this in mind, we are always looking at ways to bring more great titles to libraries and their patrons, and we’re looking for innovative ways to do so. Our new BingePass offering is a good example of this, as it taps into the habits of consumers today who like to binge a lot of content within the same series or on the same topic. With hoopla BingePass, library patrons can use just one of their monthly borrows to access an entire collection of streaming content. Right now, BingePass connects library patrons directly to online video content platforms as well as our hoopla Magazines offering, and we see unlimited potential for how hoopla BingePass can expand into other formats in the near future.
Do you have any predictions for the future of subscriptions?
CS: Subscription services need to continuously adapt to the increasing transformation and diversity of consumer trends in their industries. It’s essential to get ahead of these changes with a strong vision and business model that can evolve. To meet this demand, subscription services need to diversify the type of content they offer. This diversity opens multiple avenues of growth for companies, content creators, and providers.
BR: While hoopla is not a true subscription model, we’re seeing growth in both our model and in subscription models. I think this is indicative of the growing demand for content in general. Consumers are looking for ways to access more digital content, and their expectations around access and user experience are evolving. Libraries have excelled at connecting books with readers throughout their entire history, and our mission is to help carry this tradition into the digital space. Based on these factors, we’re anticipating the growth trajectory for hoopla will continue for quite some time.
Any advice for indie publishers considering signing up for your program?
CS: Imagine the bigger picture: Scribd has a global platform and helps indie publishers reach audiences in 190 countries and territories. Since we accomplish this through digital means, we aren't bound by paper shortages or shipping delays. We offer opportunities to read books — with audiobooks and e-books — regardless of economic and supply chain realities.
BR: One of the consistent challenges that I hear from small and independent publishers is around access. It’s challenging to compete with larger publishers for digital shelf space, and in libraries, it’s challenging to get their full lists purchased by librarians. With hoopla, these issues are solved as we can make every publisher’s full list available to all our library partners. Additionally, this allows our marketing team to seek out unique and niche titles to enhance our ongoing title collections. Publishers are also welcome and encouraged to suggest titles for our team to include in a variety of merchandising and marketing promotions that reach both libraries and patrons, and can provide a meaningful lift in visibility and sales.