A Digital Solution to an Analog Problem


I love books. Like a sickness. Sometimes I read good literature and sometimes I devour trashy, pulp novels. I can’t pass up a good coffee table book of art, illustration or design. My house is overrun with books. My teeny, tiny house is stacked two deep in some place with books. My favorite weekend activity is to scour the shelves at the secondhand book shop for a gem. The first step is to admit I have a problem. “My name is Ana and I’m a bookaholic.”

I’ve tried to embrace using the iPad or Kindle or what-have-you to buy books from Amazon et al, but even digital books get pricey.

And then, Scribd stepped into my email this weekend with an offer I could not refuse. Scribd is a digital subscription service like Netflix, but for ebooks. For $8.99 per month, I can read as many of the over 400,000 books in its library on any Apple or Android device or on a Kindle Fire. I did some cursory checks for my favorite authors. Some were listed, some were not. In some cases, a few of an author’s books were available but not the most recent. But there were lots of options, available for immediate download. Unlike my local library where the ebooks are slurped up at alarming rates and I’m left #322 on the next-to-read list so that I can read a particular book about 6 years from now.

I was offered a free month’s trial to use Scribd. Books are read in the Scribd app but the app can also be use to browse and download other books. The “books similar to” options provided decent direction to discover new books as well.

Oyster Books

I also decided to do some research to see if other services were offering a book subscription service and found Oyster. Currently Oyster books are only available on the iOS platform and the monthly subscription fee is $9.99 but their library seems a little larger.

I went ahead and started a free subscription with Oyster as well to compare the two services. The interface for browsing and book discovery on Oyster is a little more aesthetically pleasing than Scribd but both are similar with a search option or a browse by category. Oyster offers more esoteric sub-categories like, within Science Fiction, they’ve divided books into categories like “Utopian Dreams” or “Genetic Engineering”.

Both services have recently received access to the Simon & Schuster catalog which added 10,000 titles and lots of reading options. Both services have business and economic books, young adult fiction, a large cache of mysteries and popular fiction, classics and more. Either option will have something in their collection you want to read.

I did a search for a few specific authors: Stephen King (equally represented by both services, David Sedaris (only one book available at both services “Children Playing..”), Seth Godin (more books available through Oyster), George R. R. Martin (only one short story in an anthology, available from both) and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (a knitting humorist and Oyster had all her books but Scribd only had two available). As you can see, lots of breadth in both services.

I really wanted to compare the actual reading experience, which is a make-or-break for me. In general, both experiences sync across devices — from iPhone to iPad pretty smoothly. The only notable difference is that the Oyster reading environment requires users to swipe up to move through pages, more like a PDF or Word document rather than across like the iBooks or Kindle does. Neither has the faux page-turning animation, ability to adjust line spacing or margins that the Kindle and iBooks app allow. Both services feature sans serif or serif font choices and reading white-on-black, black-on-white or a sepia look. Both have highlighting and annotation options. Except for the swiping being a little counter-intuitive on Oyster, they are both perfectly adequate.

Both services offer the option to link with friends via Facebook and other services though, for me, I prefer to just read and not network. Since both services are fairly new, it might not be a big deal to anyone else either. Its really all about the books.

That said, I think both services are neck-in-neck to win my subscription fee loyalty. Both seem like great ways to feed my voracious book appetite without cluttering up my house any further.

If you have an Android device or Kindle tablet, I recommend that you start with Scribd as Oyster does not yet have support for the Android platform. If you decide to try Oyster, please use this link and I’ll get a credit for recommending it.

Have you considered or do you read ebooks? I like having a book with me at all times on my phone for those waiting-in-line moments. Do you?

Written by

0 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I have a black-and-white Kindle Touch, and I love it. The “e-ink” display is crisp and high-contrast, and for me, it’s a welcome change to staring at my backlit Mac and iPhone all day. The trouble is, of course, that I’m locking in to Amazon’s ecosystem (except for the crappy selection of books my local library system lends out, and books that I ā€“ ahem ā€“ acquire through other methods). I’d absolutely love something like Oyster; if I could do it on the Kindle. I don’t have an iPad, though I’d maybe consider it if I did.

  2. Why oh why don’t they offer these services for the Kindle Touch?? I spent too much time on my tablet already for my text books (which is fine, since they’re heavily animated and just too large to squeeze on my Kindle’s screen.) In all seriousness though, I need that for my Kindle, like now. Bibliophiles UNITE!

  3. I love my Kindle Paperwhite (and the convenience of an opportunistic read on on iPhone or iPad), but it definitely gets pricey if you read a lot. I wish Amazon made it easier for third party subscription services to tie in with the Kindle ecosystem. I get why they don’t, but I really prefer the eInk experience over a tablet for reading.

    My wife has had some success going old school and checking out actual paper books from the library. This seemed kind of insane to me at first, but even in our one horse town you can know go online to browse, and they’ll bring it in from a neighboring town in pretty short order (much faster than waiting you turn for an eBook) if they don’t have it. Obviously not quite as convenient, but I am thinking maybe I can fill the on-the-go gap with my Instapaper queue and shorter stories from places like the The Avatist.

  4. Thanks for the leads. I am another Kindle Paperwhite fan. I usually shop the $1.99 specials on Amazon or lately the public library free downloads and borrow. Granted the title library is modest but I settle for the older titles and when their free if I get a dud no real loss except my time to search.

  5. I love E-books and audio-books. However, I do not want a monthly charge. I want to buy it, have it on my drive, not the cloud, and no monthly fee. Difficult to find these days except for I tunes outrageous prices.

  6. No no no no….a thousand times NO! I read, on average, three hundred and twenty books annually and have for most of my adult life. The exception was during the times I had infants and toddlers. I read books, not e-books, for many reasons. It’s certainly not necessary to own the books you read, I use the excellent public library here in Cincinnati. I’ve been able to get nearly every book I’ve wanted to read through the interlibrary loan system. I think the rush to digitize and then discard is incredibly shortsighted. Some libraries are discarding paper as they digitize, this is a terrible mistake. The digital must be backed up but in some cases original sources are discarded.

    I already mourn the loss of bookstores caused by Amazon’s monopolization. I sadly watched first the independents and then many of the larger chains close in my city. Nothing will ever replace the serendipitous finds you can make browsing in a used bookstore or a large city library. It certainly can’t be replaced by a logarithm “if you liked this, then you’ll like that”. Nothing can replace the look, feel, and yes, even the smell of real books. Certainly not the ludicrous scratch and sniff stickers meant to be affixed to Kindles. And what about the marvelous finds inside library and used books? I’ve found photographs, shopping lists, coupons, used rail tickets and airline boarding passes, lists of all sorts, and best of all, ninety dollars in cash in a used children’s book I bought in 2013.

    I thought on a site devoted to the joys of real pens, quality paper, and all of the accoutrements of the well appointed desk I would find kindred spirits instead of kindle spirits, but alas, you’ve gone over to the enemy. Say it isn’t so!

    1. The goal is to offset the collecting, not replace it entirely. In my heart of hearts, I will always grab a book over an ereader but I am enjoying having digital books on-the-go and paper books on the nightstand.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.