Penguin Random House pull digital books from subscription services as Bertelsmann take control

Penguin Random House are withdrawing their titles from digital book subscription platforms following the takeover of the company by German publishing giant Bertelsmann in December 2019.

Bertelsmann already owned 75% of PRH and bought the remaining 25% from Pearson to give it complete ownership of the business.

The decision is seeing PRH ebooks and audiobooks being pulled from subscription services and there is market speculation that Bertelsmann are aiming to offer their own streaming service, but the company say they have no immediate plans to do so.

Since the deal was announced, PRH have started removing their titles from platforms including Scribd, Storytel, Mofibo, Nextory.  and Bookbeat and have said they ‘will not participate in subscription models with unlimited access’.

PRH’s statement adds, ‘Our decision was made jointly by the company’s international management team to protect a variety of content on the market and the actual and perceived long-term value of our authors’ intellectual property rights.’

  • Scribd is the biggest ebook subscription service outside Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and the firm claims to have over a million subscribers. 
  • Storytel is an audiobook subscription service that’s available in an assortment of countries throughout Europe, South America and Asia, but not in the major markets of North America and the UK. It claims to offer around 100,000 audiobooks and podcasts and charges €9.99 a month in Europe.
  • Mofibo is a Danish ebook platform that was bought by Storytel for €14 million in 2016 and claimed at the time to have over 40,000 subscribers reading or listening to more than 100,000 books a month.
  • Nextory was launched in 2015 as a Scandinavian ebook platform and has since expanded, with Germany, Austria and Switzerland being added over the last year.
  • Bookbeat is a platform that’s owned by Swedish publisher Bonnier and it majors on audiobooks but also offers ebooks. It launched in 2016 in Sweden and Finland before adding Germany and the UK where it charges a subscription of £12.99 a month. Last year saw a widespread expansion of the Bookbeat service to add more than 20 European countries and the firm claimed it was set to reach 200,000 subscribers.

Bertelsmann did have some original involvement — through their Club Bertelsmann retailing arm — with the Tolino ebook platform when it was set up in Germany  but later pulled out of the venture and Club Bertelsmann was closed down in 2015. Tolino is now run through the Kobo digital book platform.

Kobo, of course, have the Kobo Plus audiobook and ebook subscription service that operates only in Belgium and the Netherlands and presumably will also see PRH titles withdrawn.

The Bertelsmann decision is, of course, good news for indie authors who will now face less competition from traditional publishers on digital book subscription platforms. Some self-published authors have reported doing very good business through Scribd in particular.

Here are some of the channels you can use to reach the markets that PRH is abandoning:

  • Draft2digital offers distribution to Scribd and also has a production and distribution partnership with audiobook specialist Findaway Voices offering access to Scribd, Bookbeat, Storytel and Nextory and many others.
  • PublishDrive also features Scribd distribution but charges a monthly fee to authors although it doesn’t take a cut of royalties.
  • StreetLib has a very wide international network of partners which include Scribd, Bookbeat and Storytel as well as many others. StreetLib doesn’t charge a fee but takes a 10% share of royalties.

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