Over the past three weeks I have been using Scribd, a subscription ebook service, similar to Kindle Unlimited and Oyster. While not perfect, this is the first of the subscription services that I have seriously considering keeping the subscription after the trial.
All of the subscription ebook services have similar prices $8.99 or $9.99, all have a few hundred thousand books and a good bit of overlapping content. But there are differences.
First, Scribd and Oyster have some major publishers. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited is primarily self published books and smaller publishers, but both Oyster and Scribd have books from 3 of the 5 major publishing houses. Much of the newest content is not there, but the back list (about a year or so old) is here and has much worth reading.
Second, Scribd differentiates itself from Oyster by including approximately 30,000 audiobooks, about 28,000 more than are included free with Kindle Unlimited. These days I am reading nearly 50% of my books on audiobook. I really like audiobooks, but it is more about access instead of preference. With a 1 year old, and a work from home job, most of the time I just can’t pick up a kindle unless the work is done or the kid is asleep (and it feels like the work is never done and the kid is rarely asleep.) Note: since this review, Scribd has also added about 10,000 comic books and graphic novels as well.
Not everything is perfect with Scribd. The audiobooks are new as a service and the kinks (especially on the mobile app) are not worked out. Every audiobook I have listened to has had some problem, either frequent pauses as it tries to buffer or change chapters, or the audiobook randomly skips to the next chapter, or the end of chapters are cut off. When I contacted Scribd about the problem they said they were aware of it and working on fixes to their browser based and mobile apps. The web access for the audiobook is very basic. So I primarily have been using the iOS app for the past two weeks since it has been out.
Also the book discovery process leaves something to be desired. For most authors, there is a separate listing for audiobooks and ebooks, so you have to look at both separately to see what is available (although this seems to be reintegrating the last few days). And for some odd reason, a number of books have the publisher and not the author listed as the author. So Scot McKnight’s One Life is by ‘Zondervan Staff’ and not Scot McKnight. And unlike Kindle Unlimited the audio and ebooks do not sync their location (although Scribd says they are working on this feature and hope to have it in place by early 2015.)
I have noticed that if I search for the publisher as a user, then I find all kinds of books that I had not found other ways. And most publishers have user accounts even if they are not full participants, because Scribd has been a place for publishers and authors to post excerpts in the past. I am particularly pleased with the high level of Christian publishers that participate, especially the more academic work that I have been interested in, but not read, because of the cost. So I found a ton books from of Intervarsity Press, Fortress Press, Zondervan, Baker Academic, etc, including the massive 1700 pages book on Paul by NT Wright (that is $48 on kindle).
In general the iOS app is far less polished than the Audible app. That is not really surprising since the Audible app has been around nearly forever and this is the first version of the Scribd app. That being said, it has the basics, ability to change books, vary the narration speed, go forward or back and make bookmarks. It also will sync with other audiobook (or ebook) apps either through the web app or other other devices. But some small things, like turning off the screen automatically to save battery on audiobooks is missing.
Overall, I am certainly happy with the service but can see a number of places to make improvements. Since signing up on Nov 17, I have completed 9 audiobooks and I am in process on 2 ebooks. All are books are books that I was interested in prior to this trial. The purchase price of books would have been over $100, but as I said with the Kindle Unlimited review, the comparison is not really against purchase price, but the value of temporary access (leasing?). So if I use the 1/4 purchase price as I did in my review of Kindle Unlimited then I certainly would get my money worth for this initial month.
Also Scribd works with a variety of platforms, you can read or listen to audiobooks on a computers (through a browser) on an iOS device (iPhone or iPad), on a general android phone or tablet and on Amazon Kindle Tablets. This is similar to Oyster, but not quite as good as Kindle Unlimited which allows you to use the Kindle eink readers in addition to just tablets and phones. I am seriously considering buying a Amazon Fire HD6 (I did and it works great) particularly to use as an ereader for Scribd. My first generation iPad is not supported (requires iOS 7 or 8), so my only access so far to the ebooks has been my iPhone 5S and the Amazon Fire HD 6
The ability to earn free access is pretty good. If you sign up on a referral link, then you get two months instead of one month free (and earn a month for the referer). If you tweet or mention the app on Facebook then you can earn 1 week each. If you send an email about it you earn 1 day per email. All of which has earned me 51 days of free access so far.
Like I said in Kindle Unlimited review, these are month to month programs, so sign up, use it then take a couple months off and read or listen to other books for a while, and then sign back up again.
If you are interested please consider using this referral link so one of the Bookwi.se Contributors (and you) an extra month of free trial.