While many digital startups that sought to carve a niche for themselves in the book business have faded away, the subscription reading service Scribd capped an eventful 2019 by closing a new round of financing that brought in $58 million in funding. According to Trip Adler, Scribd founder and CEO, the investment will be used to accelerate the company’s growth by providing financing for product innovation, enhancing operations, more international expansion, and adding staff.
In early 2019, Scribd passed the one-million-subscriber mark. Since that time, Adler says, the company has seen “steady and consistent growth,” and while he wouldn’t share new subscriber numbers, he did say revenue will top $100 million in 2019, up from $75 million in 2018. Part of that growth came from international expansion, Adler explains, noting that Scribd added “many new relationships with international publishers as we build our presence across the globe.” The global expansion included the launch of a Spanish-language service in Mexico in the fall. The catalogue includes more than 60,000 Spanish-language e-book and digital audio titles from top authors and publishers.
This year also saw Scribd begin to create its own content with the launch of Scribd Originals, which features works that fall between lengthy magazine articles and full-length books, with most pieces coming in at under 50,000 words. The company published five Originals in 2019, written by authors James Alutcher, Garrett Graff, Peter Heller, Mark Seal, and Paul Theroux.
Scribd’s success was not always assured. Among obstacles it needed to overcome was being too popular, specifically among romance readers, whose voracious reading habits threatened the business model, which depended on customers reading at a more moderate level. After competitors Oyster and Entitle went out of business in summer 2015, Scribd tweaked its model. In early 2018, it was able to return to its original subscription model, which offers readers access to an unlimited number of e-books and audiobooks for $8.99 per month.
Adler attributes the return to the unlimited subscription model, as well as the rise in popularity of digital audio (in 2018, for the first time in Scribd’s history, hours listening to audiobooks overtook time spent reading e-books on the platform), with jump-starting both subscriber and revenue growth in 2018, which have carried over to 2019.
“This has been a tremendous year at Scribd,” Adler says. “In today’s world of endless distractions, I think reading is more important than ever before. We’re building the most comprehensive catalogue of content and we’re encouraging readers to read more and indulge their curiosity—it’s an exciting and rewarding business, and in some ways, it feels like we’re just getting started.”