Why the new ‘Netflix for books’ is useless to me

tree readingMaybe you heard that Smashwords has partnered with Scribd to deliver a “Netflix for books” service. For $9 a month, you can read as much as you want.

That’s a good price — $9 easily covers one book or 40 — but to me, it’s a useless deal. Here’s why:

I just upgraded to a Kindle Paperwhite because I wanted to experience the comfort of reading on a brightly lit screen and the speed of near-instant flipping between pages, like I get on my iPad. But I also wanted to eliminate the glare of LCD and the distraction of apps, push-notifications, and the Internet.

As wonderful as Scribd sounds (it offers access to more than 40 million books — a giant library for digital reading), you can only use it on web-enabled devices like iOS and Android phones, tablets, and desktop computers. The Kindle Fire and Nook HD support Scribd, but the Paperwhite — or any other e-ink reader — does not.

That’s probably not Scribd’s fault. Amazon can control its content on its own e-readers, for examples, whereas other devices allow for third-party apps (including the Kindle Fire, which is only semi-closed and based on Android’s open platform). That could be a contributing reason.

Regardless, Scribd is still useless to me — for now, anyway. But I’m curious what effect its emergence could have on libraries across the country. As more people convert to e-readers and more of them seek digital books, how many will resort to a single, convenient source like Scribd, which, as long as you maintain an ongoing subscription, enforces no limits on the length of time you can read books (unlike library rentals)? I find that e-book loaning from local libraries can be both complicated and slow. I doubt Scribd would be nearly as grueling.

Does a “Netflix for books” interest you even if you have to read on LCD screens to get it? Do you think it could threaten local libraries?

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6 thoughts on “Why the new ‘Netflix for books’ is useless to me

  1. Lately, I’ve been reading almost entirely on my tablet, but I also have a Nook (the original model). I borrow e-books from my local library (through Overdrive) and my school media center (through Blio) constantly, and they’re all FREE. The “Netflix for books” idea hardly seems worth it when half of my reading material is already both convienent to access without any additional cost.

  2. A Netflix for books is only useful to me if it has a huge range of YA titles. The public library collection is suitable (and free, so always available), but I wasn’t impressed with Scribd’s collection.

    • That’s what someone else told me, too: that she looked through Scribd’s collection and wasn’t impressed. Not to mention some titles (not sure how many) are “buy only,” which kind of defeats the point.

  3. The concept of the Scribd service sounds great with numbers like “40 million books” to toss around, but it all comes down to interest. It’s new and will continue to expand as people make requests for the kind of content they like.

    I’ve borrowed eBooks from my local library before, but it feels like a forced way to stay relevant. The library exists to make resources available to everyone, so it seems funny to put a 7-day borrow limit on a digital product, though I’m sure it’s probably how the licensing deal is set up with the publisher.

    • That’s exactly why I don’t borrow e-books from my (small) local library anymore: It takes forever to get off the waiting list, and the borrow limit is short. I remember reading once that publisher restrictions make that loaning process difficult for libraries, so you may be right that it’s largely out of their hands.

  4. Netflix made sense because, unless you were pirating movies, you still either had to buy the movies or pay to rent them. I don’t really understand the Scribd service. Why would I pay to rent a book if I could just borrow it from the library for free? All of them– Free. At Scribd, I just typed in a handful of titles I’m interested in reading, and they all came back as “purchase only”.

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