If you’re a long-term follower of this blog, you’ll remember I posted a hypothesis last summer about how a ‘Spotify for Books’ style platform would likely emerge in the coming months and years, offering readers a means to pay a flat fee and gain access to an on-demand library of digital books.
Yesterday evening, I stumbled upon a Telegraph article with the news that Tim Waterstone, founder of the UK’s biggest book retailer Waterstones, is gearing up for the launch of a platform called Read Petite. Read Petite is essentially a Spotify for books in philosophy, charging readers a flat fee for access to a digital library. However, Read Petite’s key feature is that it specialises in short stories and serialised novels, as the ‘petite’ of the title suggests.
Before I start, I’d like to congratulate Tim Waterstone and his team on coming up with this idea. There’s a serious gap in the market for a Spotify for books style service, so well done for getting in there first with a unique proposal.
However, there are some serious flaws with the pitch that make me question whether Read Petite can realistically succeed.
Firstly, Mr Waterstone argued in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that ‘if you are going to read on a laptop, or a smartphone or a tablet, a short story is about as much as you want.’ While I do agree that the tablet/smartphone are fantastic devices for the medium of short stories, the argument that ‘a short story is about as much as you want’ is way off the mark.
Think of the many hundreds of thousands of readers who download and read full novels on their Kindle Fire and iPad devices. Sure — there might have been initial resistance to tablet reading (the screen and its attitudes towards your eyes, for example), but I hear less of that melodrama and more about people embracing their tablet devices as their primary reading tool. While short stories are perfect digital reads, I think Mr Waterstone may have underestimated the attention span of the digital reader in his proposal.
Secondly, the news article also reports that ‘This is not slush pile publishing. There is an absolutely staggering treasure trove of material available.’ In other words, the focus is on the works of traditionally published authors. While I’m just as excited as a reader to check out some unpublished Graham Greene, the focus on not only past works but limiting to traditionally published authors stinks of modern technological advances stuck in a time bubble.
There is a huge market for short stories and novellas out there as it is. I can’t help but feel that Read Petite has missed a trick in this respect, although of course, there will be room to make changes on that front in the future.
What should a real Spotify for Books look like?
In the coming months and years, a true Spotify for books contender will emerge. Perhaps it will be Read Petite, but as it stands, it does not appear a legitimate way for all authors — independent and traditional — to succeed.
Also, the focus solely on short stories might be a clever marketing tactic, but in charging between £5 and £12 per month for the service, the reading habits of many seem slightly underestimated. Why pay £15 per month for just short stories when you can pick up a single short on Kindle for 99c, as well as dipping in and out of full novels at the $3.99 mark?
In addition, the article itself is slightly off the mark because it assumes that people aren’t already finding success with shorter fiction forms. It acts as if Read Petite’s focus on smaller novels is revolutionary when in fact the rise of the novella has been one of the major areas of growth since the eBook boom (eBoom?) started.
The truth is, readers have been reading short fiction on their eDevices for years, and writers have duly tapped into this expanding market. Once again, it seems, somebody forgot to tell the mainstream media.
What a real Spotify for books contender would look like, in my eyes, is this: a flat fee of £10 per month to take your unlimited collection of books everywhere — mobile, tablet, etc. Sort the audience attraction out first and the royalties later (because visibility is ultimately more important, right?). Allow for independent publishing but with quality checks on the level of formatting and basic proofreading. Offer an ad-only free option for laptop/computer reading.
So, basically Spotify then. If you’re a budding entrepreneur and fancy battling the minefield that is setting up a successful streaming company, the ideas are on the house. I wish you luck — the future needs you.
What are your views on the future of reading? Do you read full novels on your tablet or smartphone? Would a service like Read Petite interest you? Why?