In the first serious setback to the viability of the e-book subscription model, Scribd is dramatically reducing the number of romance and erotica titles it offers. In a letter sent to publishers, Scribd said that with its title count now over 1 million, it needs to “adjust the proportion of titles across genres to ensure that we can continue to expand the overall size and variety of our service.” The letter continued: “We will be making some adjustments, particularly to romance, and as a result some previously available titles may no longer be available.”

Although Scribd did not provide more details about the reasoning behind the move, it's thought that the romance fans, with their voracious reading habits, are cannibalizing profits under the subscription model. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, which distributes content to Scribd, said in a blog post that 80%-90% of his company's romance titles are being dropped from the site. Coker thinks the reason for the cutback is Scribd's fear that high-volume romance readers are undermining profits.

Coker said Scribd is dropping most of Smashword’s popular romance and erotica titles priced at $3.99 and above. Romance titles offered for free will remain. Scribd also favors free first titles in a romance series—books that often lead consumers to purchase later volumes.

The cuts in romance titles will happen across the board with all romance publishers and self-publishers.

Much like health club memberships, the e-book subscription model is based on the presumption of moderate use. Romance fans buck this assumption, however, and this, Coker explained, has become an issue. “Bottom line, romance readers are reading Scribd out of house and home,” he wrote. This problem, Coker added, is not happening with other genres.

Scribd, he said, is out to eliminate the longest and most popular titles, which are the most expensive to acquire, since the service pays publishers based on a “qualified read.”

Despite the cuts, Coker said Scribd will continue to feature thousands of romance and erotica titles. Indeed, he says he understands Scribd’s actions, though he suggests other solutions. He suggested Scribd offer tiered subscription levels beyond the $8.99 basic rate, a subscription fee that would offer value to heavy volume readers, but “wouldn’t break the bank to the detriment of all authors.”

Scribd will continue to work on its mix of romance titles it offers, Coker said, and more changes are likely to come. Although Coker is critical of Scribd’s elimination of the titles, he cautions the book industry against using this setback to dismiss the e-book subscription model.

“Today's news, while painful to many romance authors, is indicative of the fine tuning that is still necessary before the subscription services can prove their model.”