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. 🙁 ]

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

Vyrso: My Selection of On Sale Books.

Book Cover of Ed Dobson's Seeing Through the FogVyrso is part of Faithlife, formerly known as Logos Bible Software. It provides e-books focused on general rather than professional/academic audiences. I occasionally browse the site to see if there are any deals worth taking advantage of and I found a few this time around I thought I’d share with you:

  • Ed Underwood. Reborn to Be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus. David C. Cook. $0.99.
    • I don’t know anything about Underwood, but this line from Vyrso caught my eye, “A long-time pastor ponders why the Jesus Movement stopped moving …” This parallels my more general interest in what exactly happened to the hippies…
  • J.I. Packer, Paul Helm, Bruce Ware, Roger Olson, John Sanders. Perspectives on the Doctrine of God. B&H. $2.99.
    • I love these books that provide multiple views on a subject. Some really great authors attached to this particular volume. A number of other volumes are on sale in this series for a similar price, this is the one that most interested me.
  • Ed Dobson. Seeing Through the Fog: Hope When Your World Falls Apart. David C. Cook. $1.99.
    • Dobson recently passed away after a ten year battle with a debilitating and progressively worsening illness.
  • John C. Thomas and Lisa Sosin. Therapeutic Expedition: Equipping the Christian Counselor for the Journey. $2.99.
    • I’m not familiar with Thomas or Sosin, but their extensive experience and the practical nature of the book attracted my attention.
  • William Yount. Created to Learn: A Christian Teacher’s Introduction to Educational Psychology, 2nd edition. B&H. $0.99.




What You Didn’t Know About Your Local Library.

Growing up I went to a tiny local library. Its hours were sporadic and it sprawled over the first floor of an 1800’s residential home that had been retrofitted for that use. It was a very, very small library – but I loved it.

© Icyimage | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Icyimage | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

We’d make forays into Greenville to visit what became their much bigger library after they added a beautiful new addition and which also offered computers – which we could use to play games, etc. (I’m not sure the internet was an option for the first few years). Once in a while we’d even travel all the way down to Bethlehem to the monster library (which actually is decent sized, but not all that large).

Libraries where a second home for me. My mom would drop me off at one and I would stay for hours and hours. The library was a source of almost infinite knowledge – especially in those pre-internet days…and I loved knowledge.

I don’t go to libraries nearly as much these days – mainly because most of the information is now at my fingertips (and I don’t read fiction much)…but libraries aren’t relegated to irrelevance. They still house numerous books that provide deeper insights into a topic, they can get their hands on almost any book you could want (but don’t want to buy), and they offer a number of programs for children and adults – usually with an educational twist.

My local library is now the Langhorne branch. They’ve really done a beautiful job refurbishing the library – giving it a more coffeehouse/relaxing aesthetic. They have 10-20 computers that are available for public use and meeting rooms for special activities. Its a nice library – and if you want to make a trip out of the house – the library is an enjoyable (and free) place to go.

Ohh, and don’t forget about wireless internet access. Most libraries now offer free wireless internet access…and as the “Resources” page on the Bucks County Libraries’ website informs me – you can get access 24/7 by being just outside the library. Haha, this was kind of surprising – it sounds like they are inviting folks to come sit in the parking lot at all hours of the night? My guess is that in practicality, you might have a police officer visiting you one or more times during the night to see what you were up to…

In any case, what I really want to talk about is the digital resources that libraries make available. I can’t tell you exactly what resources are available at your library – but I will share with you some of the resources available through my library and I’d suggest that many (most?) libraries have similar offerings available…and they can be accessed directly from the comfort of your home (usually).

Magazines

Via Zinio my library offers access to a vast array of magazines in digital format. Here is a list of a few representative titles (but there are many, many more): AppleMagazine, Astronomy, Backpacker, Country Home, Bicycling, Billboard Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Cosmopolitan, Discover, Elle, Esquire, Field & Stream, Forbes, Fortean Times, Harvard’s Business Review, Ladies Home Journal, Men’s Health, National Geographic, Newsweek, O, PC Gamer, PC Magazine, PCWorld, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Redbook, Rolling Stone, The Economist, Us Weekly…oh boy, excuse me while I go lose myself permanently in the vast amount of quality reading material available!

Auto Repair

The libraries offer a number of resources called the “POWER Library” – this is probably available at most Pennsylvania libraries. One of these resources is an “Auto Repair Reference Center.” This is a treasure trove of information. Look up your specific vehicle’s model and see detailed instructions with images of how to perform various repairs and maintenance on your vehicle – or watch videos that explain how different components of vehicles work! Need to get an idea of what a repair is going to cost you? This can help on that front as well.

eBooks and Audio Books

The selection is much more limited than is available in the physical library – but that doesn’t keep there from being some excellent options available – you can’t argue with the convenience of never having to leave your home, wait in a line, or worry about late fees.

You’ll find books by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), John Grisham (the all-star of legal thrillers), Lee Child, George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Mitch Albom (The Five People You Meet in Heaven), J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), and Ted Dekker (Christian thriller author) amongst the many fiction titles available.

And what about for us non-fiction buffs? How about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson, Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live (I recommend), Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body,  and so on.

Tutoring

Need help with a school subject? There is plenty of free tutoring available – including through Brainfuse – for K through College covering Science, English, Math, Social Studies, and Writing. Instead of guessing at your homework – or your child’s homework – here is a chance to improve your understanding and grades.

So Much More…

And there are all sorts of other resources as well as you can see here. Legal, research, film, continuing education. So go check out your local library’s website and see what vast resources have been sitting untapped at your fingertips!