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

Skype – A Better Telephone?

Image of Skyper's Logo

Skype logo
Skype logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the ubiquitous presence of cell phones the need for traditional landlines seems to be drastically decreasing and many individuals and families are choosing to abandon landlines altogether for only cellular service. Still, cell phones aren’t a perfect solution. They generally are fairly expensive on a per minute conversation basis, have high roaming charges, and reception isn’t always amazing.

For me, Skype is and has been a service of great use – allowing me to move to cell-only, losing the landline, but at the same time keeping an inexpensive and constantly available alternative. Skype at its most basic is a free chat application – allowing users to converse via voice, video, and text. Where it passes far beyond many of its competitors is in its ability to call out to traditional phones (landlines and cells) and to receive calls from the same.

Skype offers all of this at drastically low prices. $2.95/mo. will let you call unlimited anywhere in the U.S. and Canada and $12.95/mo. will let you call unlimited to forty countries around the world. Add $60/yr. onto this and you get inbound calls with your own traditional phone number. Finally, dump on voicemail for another $20/yr. All told you are paying $116/yr. for unlimited calls within the U.S. and Canada!

And Skype will travel with you. Going on a vacation? Business trip? If you have your laptop and a internet connection you can make calls with your Skype.

Skype also offers a number of advanced features for businesses and individuals – such as normal phones that use Skype – offering traditional phone convenience without the need to use a computer (though they shouldn’t be used for emergency 911 calls). A whole ecosystem of products has grown around Skype – some of them quite advanced and feature-filled.

Take a look at Skype. Its free. If you want some of the premium features – it does cost, but they won’t trick you into buying anything and if you do buy a subscription from them its amazingly reasonable.

Napster – Free and Legal Music?

Timeline of file sharing
Timeline of file sharing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Update: I no longer use Napster. I believe they have been acquired. I’m now using Spotify.]

Napster became a household name for its early days when it offered massive peer-to-peer (P2P) music sharing – the large majority of which was illegal. After attracting significant legal attention (and conflict) it was recreated as a legal music venue – but by this time many other competitors had come out of the woodwork and Napster’s free business model had suddenly become pay. Since then Napster has held on at the periphery of existence. By Alexa’s ranking Napster is now in the top 5,600 sites, by comparison Apple’s iTunes ranks #61. Just a tad of a difference.

That said, Napster still has a lot to offer. First off, they offer full-length audio streaming of just about their entire music library. Just go to free.napster.com. Sure is, you can only listen to a song three times for free – then you either have to buy it or stop listening. But hey, how many songs do you really want to hear more than three times? And if it is worth listening to more than three times, isn’t it worth $.99?

Napster recently came out with a really impressive deal that I’d jump on if I was an audiophile…but I’m not. Its a $5/mo. package which gets you full streaming access to Napster’s massive (7 million+ songs) library and five permanent MP3 downloads. Snikes. Apple’s iTunes will charge you the $5 for the five songs, forget about being able to stream unlimited songs all month long!

So, what am I saying? Take a look at Napster. They are trying so hard – and in my opinion, while the hype is no longer on their side they are doing a great and innovative job of offering music to the masses at reasonable prices.