An Overview of EBook Subscription Services

by Aeyne Schriber on November 23, 2014 in Internet Access

Many people are constantly connected to the digital world and engage in subscriptions such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Spotify, and other services. Now there is a way for you to choose among a variety of eBook subscription services.

If you are like a lot of people that cannot live without the digital world, you may be delighted to know there are new subscription services that you can add to your existing video and music streaming services. The services provide you with access to hundreds of thousands of eBooks and include companies such as Scribd, Oyster, Kindle Unlimited, and Entitle, a re-launch which used to be eReatah.

In the area of subscription services for eBooks, the competition has been gradually on the rise. Recently, Oyster added another major publisher to its rapidly growing catalog which marks the initial offer of publications from Perseus Books Group. The partnership also provides Oyster subscribers with access to Constellation eBooks which is a subsidiary of Perseus Books Group.

Additionally, Scribd recently established a partnership with Smashwords which will expand Scribd’s catalog to nearly triple the size of its catalog to more than 300,000 titles. Smashwords is one of the largest eBook distribution companies and will provide a free one year subscription to Scribd for its authors as part of the partnership with Scribd.

After the second quarter of 2014, Amazon announced a new eBook subscription service known as Kindle Unlimited which provides subscribers with access to thousands of eBooks at a fraction of the cost of buying eBooks separately. The project represents an effort by Amazon to keep up with the competition of Scribd and Oyster, companies that are offering services that are quite competitive with Amazon’s eBook services.

Entitle is the new name for the previous company, eReatah. The company currently offers more than 100,000 titles in its catalog at a higher price for its subscription than Scribd, Oyster, and Kindle Unlimited. As of currently, the company is not a threat to the other eBook subscription services plus, the business model is rather complex. Up until recently, Entitle was the only eBook subscription service that offered access to the entire library of Simon and Schuster eBooks which was not being offered with any other eBook subscription services.

Overall, the eBook subscription service market is still in its infancy which makes it difficult to predict the outcome. However, here is a look at a few of the eBook subscription services currently being offered online.

Scribd

When Scribd was first established, the website provided you with a way to upload and share a variety of different types of content. It was initially known as a digital library and was a place where you could find reports, legal documents, how to’s, and just about any other type of document associated with an unlimited number of topics.

Since its initial launch in 2007, Scribd has changed its business model to offering subscriptions to eBook services with access to thousands of titles from major publishers including Simon and Schuster which was previously only available through Entitle eBook subscription services. The addition of its partnership with Simon and Schuster significantly increased the number of eBook titles to more than 400,000 in Scribd’s library.

Although the original purpose of Scribd was to allow users to upload and share a variety of content, this model does not carry over to the eBook subscription service. Instead, Scribd has established agreements with major publishers to offer their eBook titles in the subscription offering. This means that Scribd subscribers do not purchase shared content that was previously shared at no cost to anyone.

Scribd now offers eBooks that cover a wide variety of topics and categories from business to do-it-yourself, entrepreneurship, self-help, bestsellers, cookbooks, and much more. The major publishers the company partners with include Wiley (producer of the “for Dummies’ series), Lonely Planet, Sourcebooks, Harper Collins, and others that add up to just under 1000 different publishers. You can also obtain eBook titles in more than 75 different languages.

You can get started with Scribd by obtaining a 30-day free trial on the Scribd website. The eBooks can be read on both Apple and Android devices, as well as your web browser. Ebooks from Scribd cannot be read with any of the Amazon Kindle devices.

The free trial requires you to place a credit card number on file in your account. Once the free trial has expired, you will automatically be charged the regular subscription fee of $8.99 per month. If you decide you do not want the service, you can cancel before the free trial has expired or any time after you start paying the recurring subscription fee.

Additionally, if you are a self-publisher and you distribute through Smashwords, you can make your publications available to Scribd subscribers. You can earn up to 60 percent on books that are fully read, with a smaller percentage on portions of your publications that are read. Scribd also ensures that any unauthorized copies of your publications are deleted from the website.

In terms of the thousands of documents that have been previously shared, Scribd is still making this feature available despite the fact it is clear they are highly focused on the new eBook subscription services.

The following video provides an interview with Scribd CEO, Trip Adler on the new eBook subscription service.

 Oyster

Similar to Scribd, Oyster offers unlimited access to thousands of titles for a monthly subscription fee. The Oyster subscription service has often been referred to as the Netflix for eBooks and has attracted readers that prefer not to pay a separate price for every eBook they download. If you read a lot of books, the subscription can prove to be a real money saver.

The main purpose of Oyster is to provide readers with an alternative to Amazon and an opportunity to explore a wide genre of eBooks. If you want learn whether or not you are interested in other genres, you can do so without having to spend the extra money to purchase and download an eBook you may not like.

In order to use an Oyster eBook subscription, you must be using a device that runs on iOS 7 or later or a device running Android 4 or later. This is an improvement since Oyster could only be previously used with devices running on iOS 7 or later. The app is available on the Oyster website or you can download it from the Apple Store or the Google Play store. Also, it is important to mention that you cannot sync an eReader with the Oyster app on your mobile device, just in case this may be a deal breaker.

Oyster provides you with access to a 30-day free trial and then the recurring subscription fee is $9.95 per month after the free trial. The app allows you to store up to ten books at a time for offline reading and offers a user friendly interface. The average eBook costs about $5 so, if you read more than two eBooks per month, you have already retrieved your monthly subscription fee.

The Oyster eBook subscription service is currently only available to residents of the United States and credit cards that are based in the US. Once you have subscribed, you can browse the genres from a menu on the left hand side of the page. Not all of the genres have the same number of titles however, Oyster is constantly working on expanding its selection through partnerships with major publishers.

When you are browsing through different genres there are five blank book images that appear at the top of the screen. When you make a book selection, it appears in one of the blank images and then you can activate your account. Once you have selected five books then you are prompted to enter your payment details.

You can also view recommendations from the Oyster editorial staff provided you are in need of some advice when choosing book titles. Oyster’s library consists of titles from a wide variety of genres, including bestsellers, classics, biographies, science fiction, and more. The library consists of more than 100,000 titles plus, Oyster has integrated social media into the platform to allow you to share interests with friends and learn what titles they are reading.

As the Oyster service gets up and running, reviewers predict that there will be more personalized eBook recommendations with access to a broader range of genres. At the very least, the service is checking into.

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is currently the only eBook subscription service that allows you to read eBooks on Kindle devices. Kindle Unlimited allows subscribers to access more than 600,000 eBook titles across a wide variety of genres. Although this sounds like a lot, many reviewers have mentioned that they find themselves struggling to find the exact titles they want to read when it comes to current titles.

If you read a lot of classics and other types of books, the service is not bad. However, Scribd and Oyster provide you with a better value when it comes to accessing current titles.

One of the areas where Kindle Unlimited maintains the edge is through audiobook offerings. The audiobooks can be synchronized to a corresponding book which means you can enjoy Kindle Unlimited while you are driving your car. Plus, during the first 90 days of your subscription, you are provided with the opportunity to choose one additional audiobook each month from the larger Amazon Audible catalog. If you discontinue your subscription, you can still keep the books.

Similar to using Scribd, Kindle Unlimited is easy to use regardless if you are using an Android or iOS device since there is a Kindle app for each type of operating system. You can download the app from the Apple Store or Google Play or you can choose to consume eBooks on your Kindle eReader.

If you use Kindle Unlimited on an iOS or Android device, both platforms offer the same capabilities in terms of annotations, note taking, and bookmarks. However, if you are using iOS, you must borrow, purchase, or rent books using your web browser where an Android device allows you to browse and make a purchase directly within the app. This makes an eBook subscription service such as Scribd more user friendly for those that prefer to read on their Android device.

Additionally, should you decide to return a book, you must go to your digital content account on Amazon to make the arrangements. If you are using an Android device, this is not the case unless you try to borrow a book and you have reached the limit of ten books. Then you must go to your account to view the list of borrowed books and return one. When you look at the list it is difficult to distinguish the borrowed books from the ones you purchased.

The content offered for Amazon Unlimited for access by subscribers is subsidized for major publishers such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, and other major publishers. For other publishers such as Sourcebooks, only a portion of the catalog is made available.

For eBooks that are self-published, you must use Kindle Direct Publishing Select which requires you to offer your publication exclusively with Amazon for at least 90 days. However, if you have established a bigger name for yourself, you can rank high in the listings without having to commit to exclusivity with Amazon.

For the above reasons, finding a title that is eligible for Kindle Unlimited often presents a challenge. Most of the time you are presented with an option that allows you to narrow searches to Kindle Unlimited titles, but not always.

This is mainly because the graphic that symbolizes a title eligible with Kindle Unlimited does not always appear. And on some platforms the dropdown box located near the search bar is absent. This requires you to go to the home page for Kindle Unlimited and click on the graphic to get it to appear in the app.

Any content that is outside of the bestseller list is rather difficult to locate. Plus, some users have reported issues with downloading an additional copy of Kindle Unlimited for use on a desktop. This is because the app is prone to throwing out an error that claims your license limit has been reached, even when you have not downloaded the app on other devices. If you perform a re-synchronization, the exclamation points next to the book titles disappear along with the error message.

The upside is when compared to an Amazon Prime membership where you can read one book per month, a subscription to Kindle Unlimited provides you with the opportunity to download up to ten eBooks at a time and across six different devices. This can include any device and not just an Amazon device like the Prime membership requires you to do.

Is Kindle Unlimited worth the $9.99 per month? This depends upon the types of content you like to read and whether or not the service makes sense for you. The Washington Post recently discussed this question in a recent article.

Here is more information on the Kindle Unlimited eBook subscription service.

Entitle

When the eBook subscription service Entitle first launched under a new name, one of the main promotional features was that all subscribers could enjoy actual ownership of the books they consume. Recently, Entitle offered its subscribers more control over their purchases by allowing them to read eBooks on a wider variety of devices including Sony Readers, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobos.

This has helped Entitle to compete with other eBook subscription services such as Oyster which are limited to iOS and Android. Although the majority of subscribers that consume eBooks use iOS and Android devices for reading, Entitle has been making an effort to create more options for flexibility when it comes to reading preferences by Entitle subscribers.

In order to make this happen, Entitle has had to ensure a smooth transition since the transfer of eBooks to other devices requires you to install Adobe Digital Editions. This allows you to download an eBook, connect to a selected device, and then click and drag the book to the chosen device.

The business model that Entitle uses is also different from the previous eBook subscription services we discussed. Instead of subscribers paying a fixed monthly fee for access to an entire library of titles, Entitle limits your eBook downloads to a specific number of titles each month beginning with $9.99 for two eBooks.

This provides you with ownership of the books and helps Entitle to establish partnerships with major publishers to provide a larger library of genres for its subscribers. Some of the publishers include Harper Collins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and other publishers that carry books from bestselling authors.

Entitle offers a free trial and then after that, you must download a minimum of two eBooks per month to read at your convenience. If you do not download any eBooks on any given month, the credit is not rolled over into the next month. The upside is you can change your plan at any time in your Account Settings page if you find you are reading more or less than you originally anticipated.

Since Entitle first launched, it has added more than ten publishers which is an additional 50,000 books. Although the company does not have some of the offerings included in some of the other eBook subscription services, you should still check it out to see if the service accommodates your reading interests and preferences.

Here is a video that introduces you to Entitle eBook subscription services.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is the eBook subscription service market is one worth following and it will be interesting to see where it takes us in the near future. Each service has it strong points and its drawbacks and it all boils down to your preferences.

Right now Scribd seems to be leading the market with Oyster and Kindle Unlimited not too far behind. Although these subscription services are acquiring relations with major publishers, some of the publishers are still not allowing access to the books that are currently on the top of the list.

An eBook subscription with Scribd will allow you to read titles that are on the backlist where accessing more current titles may prove to be a challenge. On the other hand, if you are interested in reading more current titles, perhaps Kindle Unlimited may be the way to go, which will also provide you with access to self-published titles.

The type of content being offered with eBook subscription services will no doubt determine the future of the market. Readers always want access to an even larger selection of books and there is no doubt that they prefer eBook subscription services over making separate purchases. If eBook subscription services can consistently improve, the industry may very well stand a chance.

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