Scribd started out as a place to share class notes, fledgling short stories or a political manifesto —or pretty much any PDF document you might want to share online. Recently, its taken a new direction.
Scribd has launched an eBook subscription service that’s best described as a ‘Netflix for books’. A monthly subscription offers unlimited novels, non-fiction and user generated content through a browser or smartphone app for just $8.99.
The CEO of Scribd, Trip Adler, recently inked a deal with Harper Collins US, allowing them to distribute their books as part of a subscription model, in addition to the books that were already in Scribd’s library for sale, giving Scribd the content they needed to build a huge online library.
Is this biggest change in the publishing industry since the Kindle arrived?
The new platform is available on the web and on smartphones (iOS and Android devices). Your account is synced across all devices and those with existing Scribd accounts will not need to re-register.
Free users can browse the selection and download preview chapters of books. To get the full copy, you’ll need to register with credit card information – not to worry however; you can unsubscribe at any time with no strings attached and you won’t be billed until the trial period is over.
The Reading Experience
Books can be read from your browser by either scrolling down through a long manuscript or by using the ‘book view’. The latter (my favourite), presents the reader with two short, stubby pages of well-presented text that’s easy to read.
Scribd is primarily intended for personal devices like phones and tablets. According to their own usage statistics, most users opt to read their ebooks on an iPad. I’m more of an Android guy so I downloaded the Scribd app for my phone and tablet to continue my reading.
Your Scribd Library syncs instantly with the app. Each book has a thumbnail just like on the main site. The reading experience on a mobile device is far superior to a laptop. Just like its main rival, Kindle for Android, text is displayed on a white background and pages are turned by swiping the screen. Text can be resized for easier reading.
I found the home screen to be very similar to the Netflix setup: rows of thumbnails that scroll horizontally. Every genre has its own row packed with popular choices.
The Business Case for Scribd
When Netflix first switched to an online streaming only platform, such was the frenzy that everyone forgot to take a look at the business model. Now, as subscription services are popping up all over the place we can see that it’s riddled with weaknesses.
Subscription based services suffer from high user ‘churn’ — that is, users signing up and then leaving soon after. This places pressure on the company to attract new users to replace the departing ones. This issue is seen as a flaw in the subscription business model and has certainly been a problem for Netflix; many people sign up to to make use of the free trial period, but when the bills come due they bolt for the door.
Although still an issue for Scribd, I think books differ from videos in that they require more effort to use. An average person could take anywhere from a week to a month to read a book, depending on how busy they are. To make the subscription price worth your while, you’d want to be reading at least three ebooks a month. Even heavy users would struggle to top eight books, consistently. So, beyond the free trial period, there remains dozens of other titles that might catch your fancy. This is in stark contrast to Netflix where having an ‘Orange is the New Black’ marathon weekend is nothing out of the ordinary for many users.
User Generated Content
Scribd operated for over five years and has a wealth of documents. These are still available and provide an extra resource from subscribers. For example, related reading materials for novels are often cliff notes, character profiles or fan fiction.
For students, Scribd’s huge library of academic reports is available through the new online platform and via mobile apps.
Users can still upload their free content as before only now it will appear in the Scribd library. Most are available to download a DOC or PDF file.
Scribd’s success will largely depend on their selection of books. By latching on to the explosion in self-publishing, Scribd are working to foster better relations with individuals and small publishers to continually improve their selection.
Authors can submit a proposal for your eBook directly to their publishing team for consideration. Exact revenue sharing deals are not made public and I suspect are arranged on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, it’s another avenue among many for authors to get their work seen by a larger audience.
A decent subscription service for book lovers has been long awaited, but I’m on the fence as to whether Scribd ticks all the boxes.
For me, the lack of choice is the biggest obstacle. Imagine if public libraries only had books from a single publisher. That’s what Scribed is like at the minute. The remainder of their offering is made up of the classics, which are easily available for free legal download around the web.
On top of this, some books aren’t included in the subscriber plan and require an additional purchase to read.
To unashamedly make a terrible literary pun, Scribd are caught in a Catch-22. They need more subscribers to get more books; but they need more books to draw in new subscribers.
Ultimately, for those that’ll read anything and everything in sight, Scribd is great. For readers who’ll get through a book a month, or have a definitive reading “to do” list; maybe come back to Scribd in a year and see how the book shelf has grown before committing to a recurring subscription.