Scribd, Oyster, and Why I’m Hesitant as a Reader and Writer

Article Corrections on December 30, 2013: 

Below there is some information about Scribd that was incorrect, and I would like to clarify what those parts are:

  • Scribd is available on Android as well as Apple phones/tablets as well as computers
  • You can search the catalog of books by title or author without a subscription if you click on the search bar in the upper left corner of your screen next to the Scribd logo.  It the the little magnifying glass icon–the third button

Thank you for understanding!

First, I want to share a fantastic website dedicated to books, book events, gadgets, and reviews. If you didn’t check it out during the cover reveal, The Novel List is definitely worth a read. The site is both interactive and informative, and today I am thanking The Novel List for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset.

Find out why The Novel List said, “Shannon A. Thompson was really inventive with the romance bit. I didn’t even think anything would happen until it did, and when it did my toes curled.” Check out the full review here.

As a an avid reader and working writer, I focus on changes in the industry, and I try to learn as much as I can about what is happening behind the closed doors of publishing houses and libraries. I may not be the most timely person, but I’d rather watch what happens to changes before I discuss them. Because of this, I am talking about Scribd and Osyter today – two reading programs that have been out for a couple of months now.

Basic Information: 

Scribd and Oyster are e-reading programs nicknamed “The Netflix for Books.” Oyster is $9.95 per month, while Scribd is $8.99 per month, and for these costs, you can read an unlimited number a books on your Apple device.

Logos provided websites. Click the links to visit.
Logos provided websites. Click the links to visit.

Because I want to be completely fair, I want to share what I like first:

Unlimited number of books for a small fee – this is great for the avid reader. (If you only have time to read one or two books a month, this probably won’t save you money.) From the reviews I can find, the app looks clean and easy to use. It has features that allow you to search for certain words or phrases. You can discuss what you’re reading or what you want to read. Your bookshelf can be public or private, allowing everyone to compare books and see if they would like something someone else is reading. (In this case, it sounded like a Goodreads or Shelfari on top of the app.) It builds a community, but I’m still not sure it’s a community I would want to be a part of.

This is what I don’t like:

Neither website allows you to search their bookshelf before joining it. This is important, because they don’t have every book available – according to this article, these apps are missing novels from four of the five major publishing houses (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.) And I take this sort of concealing as a HUGE red flag.

This is Bogart’s skeptical face.
This is Bogart’s skeptical face.

The app is only available for Apple run services – although they are hoping to get one out for Android soon. (I am an Android person myself, so this is a big deal to me.) On top of this, it seems these apps are only available in the U.S. They are hoping to expand, but there isn’t much clarification here.

As a writer, I could not find any information on how the authors get paid. The companies have only been vague, basically stating, “it varies from publisher to publisher.” They haven’t even mentioned the authors aside from encouraging Indie authors to join, which I don’t like considering how minuscule the information is. However, they have stated that they plan on releasing more information – along with everything else…eventually.

That being said, I think there are still benefits for authors.

These company programs can help newer authors build a broader audience. Even though the cost might seem like a risk, there are libraries, which is pretty much the same concept – just in a building. It will be interesting to see if these websites build audiences and how they affect the industry as they continue to grow and expand.

When I asked for your opinions on my Facebook Author Page, here were some of your answers: 

Interact on my FB and see you answers here!
Interact on my FB and see your answers here! 

Raymond Vogel Smashwords is in on it, with AEC books expected to be added (possibly already). So, we’ll see soon enough how/if it works from a company perspective.

Marci Balk-Ruggiero said, “I read so fast it would be awesome for me.”

David Thompson said, “The publishers make all the money. The authors get screwed – a small percentage of the fee. I’ve seen the stock photo/illustration industry go down this path. 10 years ago artists often made 50% of the money. Today it is way below that – 25% on good sites and pennies on the dollar for the biggest sites.”

Rusty’s Reading said, “Not for me. I like owning the books so they are at my fingertips any time I choose to re-visit their story, it’s an attachment thing for me. Let’s not forget sales are authors bread and butter!”

Joe Harwell said, “It’s another step back for the income stream of authors.”

So what do you think? Do you have different opinions as a reader and/or writer? 

I’d love to know. Share below!


20 thoughts on “Scribd, Oyster, and Why I’m Hesitant as a Reader and Writer

  1. Hey Shannon!
    Thanks for the referral to The Novel List and the review in your post!
    As for Scribd and Oyster, I like the idea but I’d want to own the books. And according to you, it sounds like it’s a complete waste of money… They should at least have a free trial for a week or so just so the subscribers know what they are signing up for. If they had a good selection and customer service, along with easy navigation, they wouldn’t have a problem with giving free trials for short periods of time. Audible, for example, is a site that does exactly what scribd does through audiobooks. They give a month free trial so you can test out their services, which is a great idea and shows that they are confident that their product will sell and you’ll want to return. I also find that it’s a good idea to do some research and check out the reviews before getting caught up in things like this and wasting money. Some people do the trial-and-error thing but end up regretting it when they lost $10 for services they regret.
    I think I’ll stick to buying from the kobo and kindle, or at bookstores 😀 If you’re savvy enough and aren’t afraid to dig (especially in used bookstores) you can still find great deals. You might be spending more money, but if you love books, that can be overlooked. 😉

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! I think they do have a free trial. I should’ve mentioned that, so my apologies, but I am hesitant when free trials require an upfront credit card before allowing a customer to look at what exactly they are getting into (the bookshelf.) I will have to look into Audible! That sounds very interesting. Thank you for sharing information about it.

    2. They both definitely have free trials (with a credit card, of course).

      And Scribd does let you search without a subscription, at least on the web (haven’t tried the app). Oyster doesn’t…like Netflix.

      I signed up for the magazine equivalent, Next Issue. And I like it. It certainly is a good deal over print subs.

      Whether these subscription models work may depend on what and how you read. I like non-fiction, and some of my reading is only for purpose of gleaning certain info. So I definitely prefer being able to dip into a book just for certain bits of info, or one article in a collection. And that’s how I use Next Issue; I rarely read any mag cover to cover.

  2. It sounds very much like some of the services that public libraries offer their patrons: Overdrive (audiobooks), OneClick (audiobooks), freader (eBooks), 3M Digital (eBooks). The difference is that the individual customer is footing the bill instead of the library, and because an individual is only one person, the cost is more manageable (various publishing houses might limit the total number of “check outs” or might charge a pretty hefty usage fee…several hundred dollars…for the right to offer a title via one of these services (compared to buying the paperback or the audio CDs and putting them on the library shelves)).

    What makes me leery of these programs is that I suspect it might go the way of Netflix. It will be really awesome, with all of the latest and greatest titles available, right up until the programs catch on, and suddenly, the publishers (read: not necessarily to the authors’ benefit) will either want a bigger piece of the pie or they’ll snatch away their titles and try to offer their own service. Have you noticed how Netflix has basically become Hulu without the recent releases? The studios have pulled the plug on most big-name movies, making feel more like access to the catalogs available on basic cable.

    I think the best model for these kinds of services is actually audible.com. You pay a monthly fee for two books, you can buy (meaning you own!) more books at a discount, and they periodically have specials for members. The authors win, the publishing houses win, and readers/listeners get a price break, too. I

    If you’re a reader and you don’t care about owning the books, I’d recommend checking your local library for the ebook/audiobook services they offer. Your tax dollars are already supporting it.

    As a writer, I’m curious how hard it will be to offer your own titles as a self-pub or small-press author, or if they’re mainly going to work with the big publishing houses?

    1. This is such fantastic information about libraries! Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate it when readers take the time to add more information to an article. And I completely agree with you on the Netflix comparison. When it first came out, it had a great, in-demand selection, but it has since dwindled. I also think these programs will do this.
      As for these companies dealing with self-pub and other Indie authors, they are encouraging them to join, but have yet to release information on how these deals are processed.

  3. Like you, I’m very skeptical of these plans. If they won’t say how they pay the authors, that’s a very good sign that they basically have no intention of paying the authors. One of your commenters who remarked that we authors get paid by copies sold is absolutely correct. If no copies are sold, only loaned, then no royalty comes back to the creator.

  4. I really appreciate this entry. I had seen links for Scribd on Facebook, and was interested in it. However, I read on an Android tablet, so it’s good to know that it only works for Apple, currently. Also good to know that some publishers are not represented.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the information. 😀 That’s the goal. If there is anything else you’re curious about, please let me know, and I’ll research it, post, and link to you for credit.

  5. The Smashwords blog posted information on how their authors would be paid for books through Scribd– 60% of list price on books as soon as the reader passes the 30% read mark. The first 10% of the book is free (like a sample anywhere else). There are also partial credits if the reader reads between 10 and 30%. Sounds like a good deal to me, though I don’t see how Scibd is making money off of that.

    I don’t know how it works for authors working with publishers, but it sounds like authors are at least getting paid.

  6. I am super curious about these book subscription sites and I you’re right, they are mostly shrouded in secrecy. Are they really only available in the US? I also wonder how quickly they get access to new releases. If they got them on launch dates, I might be tempted… Going to search the Scribd site now.

  7. As much as I love this kind of thing as a consumer, it concerns me too see book publishing going down the same slippery slope as the music industry– with streaming music services (like Spotify) paying songwriters and artists very little. Too much availability can lead to devaluing art, and the time gone into its creation.

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