Trying out Scrib’d: “All-You-Can-Read” is more than you’ll ever be able to read

Every now and then somebody writes an article that mentions Umberto Eco’s library, or Thomas Jefferson’s library, and then goes off about how its okay to buy books and not read them. Nassim Taleb gave the concept a name – building an “anti-library.” The point of these articles seems to be making people like me feel smart for collecting more books than we will ever have time to read.

So what does it mean for your “anti-library” when you sign up for an all-you-can-read service like Scrib’d? All-you-can-read, in this sense, is absolutely more than you’ll ever be able to read, but it’s nice to dream.

Like Spotify did with music and Netflix with TV, Scrib’d is offering a subscription to books. All of the books. I signed up for a free trial a week ago, and after ten minutes I had a list of forty more books I want to read (or listen to) that I’ll probably never have time for. I already have lists like this on Amazon, at the Library, and on Goodreads, but Scrib’d feels different. For one thing, the books they make available are books I really want to read.

A few years ago, I tried Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s attempt at providing a similar offering – a book subscription for just $10 a month. The selection of available books was underwhelming. Nothing on my to-read list was up for grabs, so I gave up on K.U. quickly. The only upside was that the Kindle Unlimited books could be read on a Kindle device. (Scrib’d is limited to the Scrib’d app, on Android & iOS, or a web browser.)

Shortly after trying Kindle Unlimited, I realized I could also check public library books out to the Kindle, by way of the Overdrive service. The library’s selection is better than Kindle Unlimited, but not perfect, and many of the most desirable books are stuck behind simulated “wait lists.” Despite that, the ability to read books for free on my Kindle makes the public library my go-to source for digital reading. Yay, libraries!

Compared to its competition, Scrib’d has a better selection of books, and the experience of searching through the catalog appears to be just as good. But while Amazon has perfected the art of buying books, and made a superb physical device for reading them, they’ve kind of dropped the ball on managing the books once you own them. The designer Craig Mod summarized this problem perfectly:

“Because the Kindle ecosystem makes buying books one-click effortless, it can be easy to forget about your purchases. Unfortunately, Kindle’s interface makes it difficult to keep tabs on those expanding digital libraries: at best, we can see a dozen titles at a time, all as inscrutably small book covers. Titles that fall off the first-page listing on a Kindle cease to exist. Compare that with standing in front of a physical bookshelf: the eye takes in hundreds of spines or covers at once, all equally at arm’s length. I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library – for inspiration or reference – than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.”

The Kindle software experience is doubly frustrating when dealing with library books – I’m often left with long-ago returned titles stuck in my Kindle “library,” and no way to remove them.

Warts and all, I think most reading people agree that as far as containers for e-books go, Kindle is the best we’ve got. That’s where Scrib’d comes up short. By not being able to read books from Scrib’d on a Kindle, as I can with Kindle Unlimited or the public library, the vast catalog loses its appeal.

I may continue to use Scrib’d after the trial is over, but only for listening to audiobooks. The Scrib’d app is just as slick as Audible on the iPhone (or Libby for library books) and the price of a Scrib’d subscription is friendlier than paying Amazon $15 for one Audible book per month.

I’m not yet conflicted enough to stop using it, but I have wondered how the authors are making any money from Scrib’d. No one writes a book to get rich, but people should be paid at least a little bit for their work. As cheap as Scrib’d is for subscribers, I wonder how that’s working out?

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