It was bound to happen. When the popularity of the streaming service, Netflix started to increase, very likely someone would come out and say, “what about a subscription service for books?” This allure of having unlimited access to certain products or form of entertainment was bound to approach our beloved books. So let’s take the time to list the book subscription services that are catching up with the trend:
Oyster Unlimited: Unlimited access for $9.95/month to over 1 million bestsellers and also has an Oyster store where you can purchase a book that is not under the Oyster Unlimited program.
Scribd: Unlimited books, audiobooks, and comics on any device …all for $8.99/month.
Those are just to name a few.
Look at these programs. They all sound very promising and beneficial. So why am I (and maybe a few others) so hesitant about these services? I mean, is a book lover’s dream! Having unlimited access to books, whenever, wherever you want? There is nothing else like it! Oh wait a minute, I forgot there is something exactly like it…
It’s called the public library.
When all these programs started erupting, I thought to myself “why would anyone sign up for these services?” If I signed up with Kindle Unlimited, I would be paying $119.88 a year to access a limited amount of ebooks. Libraries have a much bigger holding of books, even if you combine all of these three services. So while paying for any of these services, you are actually paying for “an overpriced library card”. That was a term someone used in Huffington Post article I read a few years back. And that author had a point. With public libraries offering a free library card that gives you unlimited access to so much more books, why would even bother with any of these books services?
But in that same article, a person’s comment put a halt to my criticism, a comment that is unfortunate but a common practice in this economic climate…
Not everyone has access to a library.
I am very fortunate to live in a city that not only has 87 branches at my disposal but a great e-book catalog that is growing everyday. Not everyone is a fortunate as me. Either they have to travel long miles to their nearest library or their community is lacking a public library due to proper funding or shortened hours. A tragedy for any book lover. So signing up for these type of services would be beneficial to a community of readers who don’t have easier access to either a library or even a bookstore. Unfortunately, that is only the pro I can see for these services.
But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of this week’s topic. You know what I’m talking about the negative press that these services, particularly Kindle Unlimited and Scribd, have been getting. Amazon changed their policy on how they pay indie authors who use their self-publishing writing platform. Scribd was forced to cut books, particularly from the romance genre, from their catalog because people were reading them too much. These companies might say that bad publicity is good publicity. But in this situation, who is this really benefiting…the companies or the readers?
With all this discussion on the value of these services, I don’t think we are talking about the real issue. Yes, it sucks that authors aren’t being properly paid for their work and yes, it sucks they are getting their work taken down because apparently people are reading them too much. But there is underlining issue here. How does Scribd know people are reading a particular genre too much? What is Amazon using to base on how much they pay an author? The answer is: data, or creepier terms, “Big Brother”. With these book services, data is being collected on our reading habits. Netflix does this with this with their recommendations and who knows what other data they collect with our watching habits. So why is do we hold books to higher standard? Does it have something to with freedom of speech? Maybe the publishers and book companies got what they finally wanted…inside look into our reading habits.
So a subscription service for books? It’s not impossible. In the 18th century, there were subscription libraries, a practice that is still continues to this day. I may have some misgivings about the service but if it is beneficial for others so be it. However, I don’t accept companies using it to their own advantage, to cut corners in not paying authors fully, tracking readers’ reading habit for their own purpose. These services, with some cons, prove popular with readers who see its usefulness. Unlimited reading is a good thing not a money-making opportunity. Maybe when these companies created the “Netflix for books” they should remembered that.
What are your opinions of online book subscriptions? Are you currently signed up for one?