A Review of Scribd’s Subscription eBook Service

Photo of a Hallway with Bookshelves Against One Wall and Lights Hanging from Ceiling

Introduction

[ This review replaces an earlier and much more positive review I had written about Scribd. šŸ™ ]

I love books! I frequent libraries and bookstores and love the books I keep on our shelves at home. I’m also a big fan of subscription services and have been using some of them since their earliest days (Netflix, Dollar Shave Club). So when you offer me (e)books in a subscription format I’m eager to give it a try.

In the past I’ve subscribed to Amazon Kindle Unlimited (at least twice) but found that while the collection is huge the quality is lacking. Sure, there are tons of good books, but for every good book there seems to be a dozen worthless ones. I just haven’t had good luck finding books I wanted to read with Kindle Unlimited.

NOTE: I read almost exclusively nonfiction, so for those looking for fiction volumes, Kindle Unlimited may be a good choice, I just can’t speak from personal experience!

The Good

Where Scribd hits it out of the ballpark for me is in the quality and number of books on topics I’m interested in. For example, their religion/theology section is AWESOME.

And from a cursory glance Scribd seems to hit most of the core functionality needed in an ebook service:

  • Accessible via the web.
  • Dedicated mobile app.
  • Create lists of ebooks.
  • Create highlights and notes.
  • Remember last page read.
  • Robust search.
  • Browsable library.

In addition Scribd offers access to a significant library of audio books and magazines and while not my primary concern, this is certainly a nice feature!

The Bad

Unfortunately, as I’ve spent more time with Scribd, I’ve found the service has a few really significant faults. While I’m still subscribed at the moment I’m planning to cancel soon. I hope they’ll rectify these issues in the near future and I’ll be happy to resubscribe. It is a service with so much potential!

Lists That Forget

I love making lists – so I make lists of books I want to read. I began doing so on Scribd but ran into a problem. When I hit ~500 books on my lists, Scribd begins silently dropping the books I added first to the list! There is no warning, it just happens.

I’ve confirmed with Scribd that this is the service functioning as expected and while they are considering changing this, I haven’t seen any change in the months I’ve been using the service nor have I heard that there are definite intentions to do so.

Highlighting Limitations

If you need to highlight text on a single page things work well but if you want to highlight across multiple pages to create a single continuous highlight you can’t. You have to create multiple highlights. This is basic functionality included with Amazon’s Kindle and something I’ve come to expect, its lack is quite frustrating…though if this was the only problem with highlighting, I’d make do.

To the above you can add issues with memory utilization on mobile. If you make multiple highlights using the Scribd app it becomes progressively slower and more difficult to highlight. Exiting the app and reopening it resolves this issue, but this occurs fairly quickly and if you are doing highlighting with any frequency you will be closing and reopening the app regularly.

Perhaps I could live with both of these, but when combined with a third issue – the inability to see highlights/notes in a single place – I’m just not willing to deal with that many problems (and with such basic functionality)!

Goodbye Highlights/Notes When Book Expires

Highlights/notes seem to be tied specifically to each volume, so when a book is removed from the service one loses all the highlights/notes associated with the book. This is absolutely unacceptable.

In addition, I am concerned about whether Scribd also silently deletes highlights/notes after some magical number as it does with saved lists. Are highlights/notes being silently deleted as I make new ones?

There are some services such as Suprada Urval’s Exifile which allow you to export notes/highlights and I’m incredibly thankful for Suprada creating such a utility, but even this utility requires us to go into each book we have highlights/notes to perform an export. This isn’t Suprada’s fault, its part of the limitations of Scribd mentioned above.

Is It Worth It?

I was quite excited about Scribd when it was first released, but I’m pretty disappointed now. Depending on the sort of reader you are, Scribd may still be a good choice – for me though it has fatal flaws. I’m hoping Scribd will resolve these issues and I’ll be able to write a glowing review in the near future.

What do you think? Do you use Scribd? Have you found another subscription service you prefer?

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

My Haul: A Short Reading List.

An Estate Sale

Today I went to an Estate Sale in Mendham, NJ. The house was set back from the street, which was a sometimes one-lane road in the middle of the countryside. It was quite beautiful…and the most beautiful part where the thousands of books lining its walls.

The former resident of the house was obviously a lover of classic/contemporary literature, arts, history, and biography. I spent a solid two hours searching the shelves and finally exited with nineteen.

I know, that is a lot of books – but when there are several hundred you want to buy and you leave with less than two dozen, one feels a certain sense of accomplishment.

So here is my haul…Perhaps it will make a fun reading list for someone who shares my interests.

Photo of Bookshelf with Lots of Old Books
Image thanks to Unsplash.

Why I Chose What I Chose

Feel free to jump down to the list itself, but for those who care (anyone?) I’d like to share the reasoning behind my choices.

  1. I focused primarily on historical and biographical books because:
    1. I don’t read much contemporary fiction.
    2. When I read classical fiction I usually use an e-text and turn it into an e-book.
    3. I consider myself too much a beginner in the arts to be able to understand much of what is said in these fields and would rather focus on learning more of the basics.
  2. I chose almost exclusively books that the former owner had read in their entirety (which was obvious by the hand-written notes, underlines, and bookmarks sprinkled throughout).
  3. My primary interests in reading are to (a) understand God and (b) understand humanity. The library was sparse in the former, so I focused on the latter.
  4. Most of these books are historical or biographical, but the way in which I read them remains constant with my primary interests:
    1. Who is God? How do we relate to Him?
    2. Who is Man and Woman? How do we relate to each other?

 

The Selections

Revolutionary War Era

World War II

Other

 

  1. [1]When we record history, we interpret it. We are not objective observers. With humility we acknowledge this and attempt to be self-reflective as we write…but sometimes the reader discovers the author has in fact (or just seems to) slipped into various biases which color the facts unnecessarily.

Blinkist: Staying Current in a Break-Neck World

Overview of Blinkist

I’ve been using Blinkist for well over a year now and am quite happy with it. There are free accounts (one Blink available to read each day selected by Blinkist) but I’m a paying subscriber ($4.16/mo.), I’m a little tempted to go Premium ($6.66/mo.) just to gain the ability to export my highlights to Evernote,[1] but for now, I’m being good.

Photo of Book, Glasses, and Phone
Image thanks to Dariusz Sankowski

What Blinkist does is summarize important non-fiction books which generally take 10-20 mins. to read. It allows one to be familiar with the book without investing hours into it.

I also use it to figure out which books IĀ really want to read. It is great to read a brief summary and quickly see whether a full reading will be productive.

Blinkist is accessible on smartphone, tablet, and via desktops/laptops. I tend to read most frequently on my smartphone.

Guide to ThisĀ Post

You’ve already made it through a quick overview of Blinkist, but there is still a lot of material I’ll be covering, so here is a quick guide to what follows so you can jump around if you so desire:

  1. Blinkist Features I Love
  2. Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – This main consists of inconsistencies in their user interface – features aren’t available on mobile that are on full web, and vice versa.
  3. Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – I have three specific features I’d like to see in Blinkist to make it more useful.
  4. Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book
  5. Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks
  6. Blinks I’m Currently Reading
  7. Blinks I’m Most Eager to Read

Blinkist Features I Love

  • Favoriting – If you like a Blink you can favorite it. I use this to keep a list of books I want to buy / read in full.
  • Highlighting – I love being able to highlight portions. I actually have OCD and my highlighting is more than a bit compulsive, but I’m still happy to have the feature.
  • Introductions – Provide a brief introduction to the book, oftentimes highlighting the books major topics, and usually including a small bio of the author.
  • Final Summaries – Sums up the main point(s) of the book, recommends a related book to read.

Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist

  • The ability to take notes like one can on the Amazon Kindle.
  • Consistent featuresĀ across devices, e.g.
    • Web App Lacks:
      • Ability to add to one’s To Read list.
      • Ability to add tags to a blink.
      • Ability to add Blink to favorites.
      • Ability to delete book from Currently Reading.
      • Ability to listen to audio.
    • Mobile App Lacks
      • Ability to add via the wish list items for Blinkist to create Blinks of.
      • Ability to buy book from currently reading list.
      • Finished List of Blinks completed.
    • Ā from the web app.
  • The introductory material (especially the blurb about the author), quotes, and heading sentences for each “page” to be highlightable.
  • When highlighting on the mobile app, sometimes the arrows allowing one to expand or contract the selection never appear (I find this inconsistently happens when selected the first [or last?] word in a line).

Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist

There are several rather large changes I’d like to see Blinkist bring about. All three have to do with making the Blinks more productive and useful.

First, there is the need for page references. Right now one knows the Blink is about the book, but not the particular pages or even chapters being referred to. Ideally, there should be chapter and/or page references for all the major points the Blink summarizes so one can pick up the actual book and quickly read the specific section one wants to read more deeply, rather than needing to browse the entire book.

Second, it would be great if there were quotes from the book summarizing each of the major points the book makes. These could be footnotes included in the Blink. They’d allow us to read controversial viewpoints in the author’s own words.

Finally, it would be great toĀ be given resources to see what the critics of the book say. For example, Noam Chomsky criticizes American Foreign Policy in Rogue States, but how would his opponents rebut his arguments?

Another, even more important example is those books dealing with health and psychology. Authors make statements but it is unclear their sources or whether this is the author’s own opinion of scientific consensus.

Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book

  • (3) Jennifer Kahnweiler. The Introverted Leader.
  • (1) Dr. Eric Berne. Games People Play.
  • (3) William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience.
  • (5) Dr. David Perlmutter. Grain Brain.
  • (5) Dr. William E. Paul.
  • (4) Noam Chomsky. Rogue States.
  • (4) Leonard Mlodinow. Subliminal.
  • (5) Atif Mian and Amir Sufi. House of Debt.
  • (5) Giula Enders. Gut.
  • (4) Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth.
  • (3) C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins.
  • (2) Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • (4) Tim Spector. The Diet Myth.
  • (3) Roy F. Baumeister and John Tiernye. Willpower.
  • (4) Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail.
  • (3) Susan Cain. Quiet.

Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks

  • Dr. David Perlmutter with Kristin Loberg. Brain Maker.
  • Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The Peter Principle.
  • James Rickards. The Death of Money.
  • Carl Zimmer. A Planet of Viruses.
  • Michael Alvear. Make a Killing on Kindle.
  • Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands.
  • Tim Ferris. The 4-Hour Workweek.
  • Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. What’s Mine Is Yours.
  • Walter Isaacson. Einstein.
  • Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller. Attached.
  • Margaret Cheney. Tesla.
  • Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.
  • Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Triggers.
  • Jon Ronson. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
  • Alex Epstein. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
  • Christopher Hitchens. The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
  • Christopher Clark. The Sleepwalkers.
  • Chris Brogan. The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.
  • John Lanchester. I.O.U.
  • Benjamin Graham and comments by… The Intelligent Investor.
  • Philip Zimbardo. The Lucifer Effect.
  • Gary Taubes. Why We Get Fat.
  • Suki Kim. Without You There Is No Us.
  • Thomas Paine. Common Sense.
  • Edward W. Said. Orientalism.
  • Phillip Coggan. Paper Promises.
  • Edward D. Kleinbard. We Are Better Than This.
  • Kevin Roose. Young Money.
  • Ha-Joon Chang. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.
  • Kabir Sehgal. Coined.
  • Ha-Joon Change. Economics: The User’s Guide.
  • Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky. How Much is Enough?
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto.
  • Eric D. Beinhocker. The Origin of Wealth.
  • Karl Pillemer. 30 Lessons for Loving.
  • Niall Ferguson. The Ascent of Money.
  • Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. Sex at Dawn.
  • Masha Gessen. The Man Without a Face.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince.

Blinks I’m Currently Reading

  • Stephanie Coontz. Marriage, a History.
  • Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Poor Economics.
  • Ha-Joon Chang. Kicking Away the Ladder.
  • Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The Upside of Your Dark Side.
  • Karen Piper. The Price of Thirst.
  • Jeffrey A. Leberman, Ogi Ogas. Shrinks.
  • Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature.
  • Adam Braun. The Promise of a Pencil.
  • Seth Godin. Tribes.
  • Lawrence Lessig. Free Culture.

Blinks I Am Most Eager to Read

  • Tom Rath. StrengthsFinder 2.0.
  • David Richo. Daring to Trust.
  • Oliver Sacks. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin. Team of Rivals.
  • Mark Goulston. Talking to Crazy.
  • Donella H. Meadows. Thinking in Systems.
  • Dr. Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti and… The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.
  • Noam Chomsky. Failed States.
  • Jeremy Rifkin. The Zero Marginal Cost Society.
  • Ori Brafman. Sway.
  • Walter Mischel. The Marshmallow Test.
  • Helen Fisher. Why We Love.
  • Robert Karen. Becoming Attached.
  • Brene Brown. Rising Strong.
  • Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. A General Theory of Love.
  • Ray Kurzweil. The Singularity Is Near.
  • Josh Kaufman. The Personal MBA.
  • Richard Koch. Living the 80/20 Way.
  • Brian Tracy. Eat That Frog!
  • Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Childhood Disrupted.
  • Laura Putnam. Workplace Wellness That Works.
  • Patrick M. Lencioni. The Advantage.
  • Ron Friedman. The Best Place to Work.
  • Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence.
  • Dr. Frank Luntz. Words That Work.

I Make Money

I try to write only was is worth reading and to only recommend products I believe in,still I figure you deserve to know that I will get paid if you sign up for Blinkist through one of the links on this page.

  1. [1]Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with Evernote. I wish there was something else that worked better than it did, but I haven’t found it. Microsoft OneNote seems significantly clunkier.