Kindle wasn’t always the ubiquitously available service that it is today. Some libraries and companies offered PDF versions of less popular texts, but you had to read them on your notebook or desktop. Then eReaders came along and did for books what the iPod did for music. Today, eBooks are readily available and cheaper than ever. Now we stand on the cusp of another major revolution in eBooks. In the last two years eBook subscription services have taken off.
If the Kindle did to books what the iPod did to music than eBook subscription services are about to do to eBooks what Spotify did for music. These services are basically large digital libraries that you can visit at home for a small fee each month.
If you’re thinking about getting a membership to an eBook subscription service, here’s what you need to know and how each of the three major services compare.
Of all the eBook subscription services out there, it’s Oyster that probably garners the most attention. Unlike its chief rivals, it isn’t a business that pivoted to eBook subscriptions from something else like book purchases or document scanning. That’s important for a reason we’ll get to in just a bit.
The Oyster digital library has over 1 million books available for subscribers to download directly to their devices for $9.99 a month. Those 1 million titles are divided up into selections from over 1,600 publishers. Just as it was with music early on, how many books a subscription service has is less important as the publishers they have on board. HarperCollins, Macmillan Simon & Schuster are among the publishers available through Oyster. Walter Issacon’s Steve Jobs biography is available on Oyster, for example.
Oyster doesn’t exactly make it easy for users to search for a specific book before signing up for the service, which is why it’s great that users can sign up for a 14 free trial. Almost no one reads eBooks on an eReader anymore. Everyone has switched to tablets. Oyster addresses this with apps for the web, Kindle Fire, Android and iOS. There aren’t apps for Windows or Windows Phone, which is disappointing.
Scribd wasn’t originally in the eBook subscription space. At first it only allow users to share documents. Large companies and individual users would track down sheet music or documents and then use Scribd to embed the documents in their pages. 2013 was the first year that users could pay for a Scribd subscription and download titles to read. $8.99 a month gets Scribd users access to a half millions of books. Users can download as many books as they want and start reading immediately. HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan are among the companies that provide Scribd with digital book downloads.
Patricia Cornwall and Neil Gaiman are among the authors available through Scribd. What Scribd lacks in sheer eBook volume it makes up for with a different feature. In addition to the written word, a Scribd eBook subscription includes audiobooks too, letting users choose how they’d like to enjoy their favorites. That’s a big deal for anyone who wants the ability to listen to books when they’re in the car or otherwise occupied.
There’s a one month-long free trial for that. There are apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and the web. There’s also an app for Kindles.
Kindle Unlimited is a relatively no eBook subscription service. For $9.99 a month users get access to a library of around 700,000 titles and “thousands of audiobooks.” Amazon starts everyone off with a month-long free trial so that they’re able to get a feel for the service before they become dependent on it.
The key for Kindle Unlimited is its established infrastructure. Users simply choose which books they’d like to read online and Kindle Unlimited adds it to their library for access on its apps. Today, Kindle Unlimited is available on every relevant platform. That includes Microsoft’s Windows Store and Windows Phone. As such, it boasts the best availability of all three services. Unfortunately, both Windows apps are a bit lackluster and don’t support audiobooks.
Which eBook Subscription Service Should You Use?
Early on I mentioned that pedigree is important, and that Oyster originally being envisioned as a book rental service gave it a leg up. That’s true, and it’s because of the that that Oyster feels like a book service for people who love books. Its site features dozens of pre-made reading lists. Browsing is easy and there are always tons of recommendations for users to choose from. The Oyster website and apps have the best reading experience by far. The big problem with Oyster is that there aren’t any audiobooks available in its catalogue.
Kindle has a slightly smaller catalog, but makes up for it with free audiobooks. Chances are that if you’re favorite publisher is available on an eBook service it’s Kindle Unlimited. For example, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is available only on Kindle Unlimited.
Ultimately the best thing you can do is look for the books you want on each service and ensure that there’s an app for your favorite devices. Don’t hesitate to try the one you’re most interested in. It all comes down to savings. If you’re already spending more than the cost of a monthly subscription anyway, an eBook subscription service could definitely be the way to go.