Scribd Review: Can an Upstart Take on Amazon Kindle Unlimited?
I like the idea of reading books, gaining knowledge, being entertained, imagining things, just as much as the next person. And as a writer, reading is an inherent part of my life. But as someone who writes a lot and spends his days reading a lot of blogs, books have recently taken a back seat. So naturally, I turned to audiobooks. But at average prices of $15-25 at Audible, they were way too expensive (context: I’m in my 20s, I’m a writer, I live in India). So I turned to free audiobooks. The awesome volunteers at Librivox have done a great job at converting out of copyright books into audiobooks. That got me through a couple of months.
Books for the On-Demand Generation
We’re starting to become the on-demand generation. Everything from TV shows to movies to food, we want them at a moment’s notice, whenever we demand them. Books though, are late to transition to this era. But they’re here now. Scribd is the Netflix for ebooks. And not just ebooks. They have audiobooks and now even comics. And they keep adding more and more stuff every month.
Fun fact: Scribd started as a user based document sharing site in 2008. In October 2013, the site pivoted to being the “Netflix for ebooks”. In the dark corners of the site, the document sharing part still lives.
Right now, Scribd has over a million ebooks, audiobooks and comics. You pay $8.99 a month to access all of it. It’s a 9 dollar, all you can eat buffet (there’s a 30-day trial). When you sign up for Scribd, you’re essentially buying a digital library card. You don’t own anything and when your subscription expires, you lose access. If you read/listen to more than 1 book a month, Scribd is already worth it. Yes, unlike buying the book on Kindle, you don’t own it. But then again, what’s owning when it comes to the digital world? Amazon has the right to delete a book you’ve purchased anyway.
Scribd’s App Experience
You can use Scribd on iOS, Android, Web and even on your Kindle Fire (I tested it on all but the Fire). From Scribd’s app you can browse ebooks and audiobooks, download them for offline use and read/listen to them. The app provides position sync for both ebooks and audiobooks across multiple devices.
The app does a lot more than the Kindle app. And the experience is just OK. In my 2 weeks of testing, I’ve had the app crash on me when I was out and about listening to an audiobook. Recently it forgot my last position in the audiobook and started from the beginning. The app is slow at opening ebooks and syncing audiobooks could also be better. Yes, the app is buggy and if you’re not tolerant of such acts, it could turn you off from the whole thing.
Scribd vs Amazon Kindle Unlimited
Amazon itself offers a similar buffet service called Kindle Unlimited. I’m not in the US so I wasn’t able to test it, but preliminary research indicates it’s not a great service. You get 800,000 ebooks and around 3,000 audiobooks. The problem is that there’s no easy way to search if an ebook is available for Kindle Unlimited or not. There’s just a category page for ebooks and audiobooks for Kindle Unlimited (Ebook Friendly offers more tips for solving the Kindle Unlimited book availability mystery).
From what I’ve read, Kindle Unlimited’s collection isn’t that great. And I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon. And I also don’t think you’ll see the entire Amazon Kindle and Audible library on Kindle Unlimited someday. Because that would mean Amazon competing and undercutting their own product, earning far less. Authors don’t seem to be a big fan of Kindle Unlimited’s payout either.
Scribd, on the other hand, doesn’t offer books for sale. This is their only thing. If they make a deal with a new publication, you get every single thing.
But then again, Scribd is not only competing with Kindle Unlimited but with Kindle itself. And that’s a tougher fight, especially when Kindle has a dedicated ebook reader. I would expect it would be really hard for a Kindle die-hards to switch to Scribd and do all their reading on iPads when they have this better option sitting right next to them. I’m personally over Kindle. The advantages of Scribd far outweigh the downsides.
Scribd is Worth it for Audiobooks Alone
When it comes to Audiobooks, usually it’s either Audible or nothing. You can pay for Audiobooks or sign up for a subscription that gives you 1 credit for an audiobook at $15 a month. Audiobook streaming is kind of a sad affair right now. Which is why I’m glad Scribd is on it.
For instance, I’m listening to Think like a Freak right now (totally recommended). It’s $20 on Audible and for some reason, it’s “not available in my region”. So right now, I’m legally enjoying an audiobook that I couldn’t get even if I was willing to overpay for it. And Scribd has a library of 45,000 such audiobooks. Granted, not all of them are going to be great, but you’re going to find hundreds that will be (especially if you’re a fan of non-fiction audiobooks). And you’re going to end up paying a lot less for it.
Scribd has solved my personal problem with audiobooks I’ve had for the past year. Even when I was downloading audiobooks from other sources, there was no easy way to play them on iOS and Android. There were apps, but they felt like hacks.
If you’re a voracious reader or if you plan on listening to audiobooks, Scribd is for you. You’re going to get your money back in a couple of days and then the savings will trickle in. And the great part is that the app gives you a 30 days trial. That’s more than enough for you to decide. I’m in my third week and I’m already sold. The app has its issues, but it’s not so bad that you can’t use it. And I feel like it’s going to get better with time. And that’s what keeps me coming back to Scribd. In February, they added hundreds of comics. From Avengers Assemble to Garfield to Archie to the web’s Cyanide and Happiness.
From the time I’ve spent searching ebooks or browsing in Scribd, I can say that the ebook collection is quite good. You’re going to have trouble finding new releases, but a bestseller from last year won’t be a problem. Right now, Scribd has Game of Thrones but not Lord of the Rings. It has American Gods but not Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There’s Eleanor & Park but not The Fault in our Stars.
But Scribd has enough. Continuing the Netflix analogy from above, Scribd won’t be your only reading source. You’ll have to buy something from Kindle or a paperback now and then (because you’re romantic after all). But for the most, Scribd will do.
So go sign up for a 30 day free trial or give someone who loves books a subscription.
Bonus: Scribd Wishlist
- Sync audiobook and ebook positions when both are available (Amazon does this with its WhisperSync technology). Scribd really needs to work on its amalgamation of ebooks and audiobooks, right now they’re totally different sections.
- Ability to upload your own ebooks (Google Play Books lets you do this). This might have unwanted legal implications so I’m not holding my breath for this one.
- Adding social element. Like commenting on highlights, following and interacting people. Kindle has Goodreads integration, Scribd has nothing of the sorts right now.
- I want an ecosystem independent ebook reader. Something like a Kindle Paperwhite that can read ebooks from multiple services (someone please make this happen).
Are you a voracious reader? Do you think you’ll give Scribd a try? Share with us in the comments below.