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I'm clearly a tech junkie. I love new, innovative technology. That may come from being raised in an era where television and radios had these glass tubes in them, I think they were called vacuum tubes, which were eventually replaced by transistors. It was an era where the hot, new, improved telephone was the one in pastel colors with coiled cords. Oh, and the Princess phone which came long after the yellow wall phone that hung in our kitchen.

I used to lose myself in daydreams of tomorrowland's technology. Of ovens that would cook food in an instant, or computers small enough to fit in a house and talk to the occupant. Come to think of it, I still do.

Until I can have the same computer that powered Jean Luc Picard's voyage through space, I find what pleasure I can in all of the incremental steps that will take me to the time when I can simply say "Earl Grey, hot." And enjoy a cup of tea.

The newest innovation in eBooks is the Netflix concept applied to books. Anyone else remember when Netflix started as a DVD lending library with movies mailed in red wrappers? Most of its movies are now watched via streaming, eliminating most of the need for mail service.

Which is a good thing, because if you are going to transition the business model to books, you don't want to start off having to mail a physical book back and forth to the customer.

Currently, the race to become the new Netflix for readers is between a start-up and an established internet company.

Oyster is the startup and hopes to be the eBook Netflix for your Apple mobile device, allowing you to read all of the books you want for $9.95 a month. As long as those books are among the 100,000 titles they offer. Being the aforementioned junkie, I asked for and received an invitation to download and begin using the app on my iPhone for $9.95 a month, just to see if I would like it. That was a month ago. Oyster has just released an iPad version which is better suited to my aging eyes.

Oyster Home Screen
 for iPad
The application home screen looks much like the Netflix home screen, with recent books that I have added to my TBR list, those books that are in the Oyster "Spotlight," those "Popular on Oyster," editors picks, recently added and genre listings.

It is attractive and intuitive. If the books that you would like to review are not listed in the categories on the home page, you can either search by keyword, author or title. Or, you can view additional genres.

Oyster also offers a social media connection that allows you to see what your friends are reading or show them your choices. Since no one that I know is using Oyster yet, that is one feature I have no use for, but can see how handy it would be for a book club to share such information.

The feature that I do have use for is the ability to change the fonts. I love playing with fonts, and not just super-sizing them. Oyster's fonts come with their own backgrounds:

Three of the five fonts available on Oyster

Oyster claims a library of 100,000 books in addition to open source works. They have signed up "HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Workman and  Rodale  (to name a few) as well as indie book distributor Smashwords," according to an article in Wired. They claim that their library will continue to expand. Unfortunately, they only offer an app for Apple mobile devices. If you are an Android user, you are just out of luck.

The other competitor for the Netflix title is a bit older than Oyster, by about six years, and has an audience of 80 million visitors to its website every month. Scribd believes that this positions it well for an entry into the book subscription service market.

Most internet users are familiar with Scribd as a means to share documents online. In January of this year they quietly moved into the lending trade, and on October 1st announced the signing of HarperCollins, which will provide Scribd subscribers access to its entire backlist (those books over a year old). Scribd is not revealing how many titles are in its library but in addition to HarperCollins, its "e-book subscription service already includes books from smaller publishers, including Rosetta Books, Workman and Sourcebooks." And while new releases from HarperCollins won't be available to borrow, they will be available for purchase, possibly creating a back-door competitor for Amazon.

And after spending so much time criticizing the Big Five for their head-in-the-sand posture regarding the new reality that includes eBooks, it is nice to be able to praise one publisher that appears to be trying to find new ways to survive and perhaps prosper in that reality. Bravo to HarperCollins for being able to look beyond yesterday into tomorrow.

"I feel we are moving into new uncharted waters, but that's what innovating and reading is all about," HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray said in an interview. "I feel like this is the right deal with the right partner at the right time and we are going to learn."
The Scribd application for the iPad is not terribly different from Oyster's, although the font selection is not as great. Also, I prefer the vertical pagination of Oyster, where you can scroll up or down between pages. Scribd also offers social media connections.

However, Scribd's price is a dollar less a month and it offers more titles from HarperCollins as well as that purchase option. More importantly, it provides apps for use on Android platforms (including Kindle Fire) as well as Apple mobile devices and all internet browsers.

During the month's free trial that both services are offering, I plan on switching back and forth to find which one offers the most books that I want to read. I will report back on what I find. But it isn't only about saving a dollar a month, or rather paying nine or ten dollars a month. Already I have found the services to be a good way to explore books that I might not have otherwise looked at. (I guess it helps if you read as much as I do and cringe whenever the Amazon bill shows up.)

Jeremy Greenfield of Digital Book World asked Trip Adler, the CEO of Scribd, about the pricing in a recent interview:

JG: Most readers in the U.S. probably don’t read enough to validate paying $8.99 a month for unlimited digital reading. Have you gotten blow-back on the price?

TA: The way I see it, we’re charging $8.99 per month for a new type of experience for books. It’s not just about getting more books for a lower price. It’s a new experience around discovering books, more flexibility to switch books, to browse books, to search for information within books. We’re charging for a new experience where people have access to a library. We’re seeing people browse books, read them in parallel — there are a lot of different kind of user behaviors happening.

He is right about that. I don't know how long the effect will last, but it is very like having a large library at your fingertips. I can read more than the first few chapters of a book before giving up on it. And I can take a look at books that are similar, or can provide background to whatever it is that I am reading about.

However, it is when Trip Adler starts talking about the technological innovations of the future, that my heart starts pounding exactly the way it used to when I dreamt about tomorrowland:

"If we're going to build hardware, the thing we want to do is build reading goggles, so you can do hands-free reading," Adler says. "It's a little bit of a crazy idea, and I think it's a long way away for us, but there is already a number of e-readers out there, and I don't think people need yet another device."

In Adler's view, the future of e-readers (eye-readers?) is in hands-free technology. Holding heavy books or tablets is cumbersome, Adler believes, describing the need for a more immersive experience than Google Glass. "Holding a book you're reading is kind of old school," he explains. "You should be able to just read on your back looking at the ceiling, with the reading experience probably projected in front of [your eyes]."

Adler stresses that Scribd is still "years away" from even considering producing such a product. It's moon-shot thinking. The details--how you would scroll, jump to different pages, and so forth--still need to be figured out.

Fast Company

"Earl Grey, hot."


Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
Sun 5:00 PM Political Books Susan from 29
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
Fri 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht; first one each month by ArkDem14
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

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Comment Preferences

  •  I didn't know about this (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the info. I wish it were available for audiobooks, too!

    "True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country." Kurt Vonnegut

    by scilicet on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 11:14:52 AM PDT

  •  Interesting diary, thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    One has to wonder why Netflix itself doesn't enter the book and music game as well.

    They have the subscribers, they have the technology, wonder why they don't move in this direction and own the entire "library" vs. sales market.

    I could definitely see myself using a service like this.

    Amazon has been testing the waters with the fact that you can borrow one book a month if you have Amazon prime membership.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 11:16:05 AM PDT

    •  I have tried to use the Amazon once a month (4+ / 0-)

      book borrowing service, but it seems to consist of books whose authors are little known and whose books retail for a couple of bucks. And in addition to Prime membership, you have to be using a kindle device. Since I am now using an iPad so I can read offerings from a variety of vendors, I gave my last kindle to a family member.

      I think one of the obstacles to Netflix moving into this market may be the complicated revenue structure of book publishing. Netflix usually pays for its movies up front, but book lending is done by read, or amount read (neither Scribd or Oyster is very clear about how it is done). And movies are usually watched on a tv and ebooks are read on eReaders or tablets.

      But I think there may be some real value in a pocket library for those who read a lot of books.

  •  Neither, sadly (5+ / 0-)

    Neither one is anywhere close to having the library that would allow them to move into that role.  I'd gladly pay $10 or $15 per month, but I'd want the big publishers' libraries, as well as Baen (I'd mention Tor specifically, but they're technically part of Macmillan).  To be honest, I'd read a lot more books via such a service that I do movies with Netflix...but since the publishers are in no way willing to put forward that level of accessibility, I have no interest in subscribing.

    What I'm actually more interested in is Amazon's initiative to have cheap ebooks with a dead-tree purchase.  If they can really get publishers to buy into that, I'll be snatching up ebooks by the boatload.

  •  Maybe Closer Examination (4+ / 0-)

    will show me how these two media ventures offer me more for a fee than I get for free from my public library's Overdrive e-book lending service.

    I get to select from a huge pool of volumes; I get a choice of various formats; I can adjust to several fonts and backgrounds; I get both text media and audio books; I can share what I'm reading across several social media; I can checkout up to 10 selections at one time; I can keep each selection 14 days.  I'm sure I enjoy other benefits that I can't think of at the moment.

    Why would I pay for essentially the same service provided for free by my library?

    I suppose these business models arose because someone thinks I'm missing something, but I need to be told what it is.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 11:30:14 AM PDT

    •  I agree that libraries can often provide the same (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Limelite, RiveroftheWest

      content, if not more, than can be provided by Oyster or Scribd.

      They can also lend out more DVDs than Blockbuster ever did at a much cheaper price, but people still use Netflix for DVDs as well as streaming.

      OTOH not all libraries offer digital books and not all digital providers carry all publishers. Like the subscription services they are still in the growth stages.

      The target market for these subscription services appear to be those power readers who have the money to spend this way. An indication of that is shown by Oyster's focus on iPhone and iPad users, rather than the more common Android user. According to Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey as quoted in the NewsFactor article:

      Although a relatively small percentage of the population are book lovers, McQuivey said those that are tend to be college graduates with above-average incomes -- a compelling demographic for a subscription service that is also looking to sell content to own, too.
  •  Maybe pay-lending explains why libraries (3+ / 0-)

    can't really get elending off the ground affordably. Looks like publishers may have figured out that they can get paid more this way.

    I'll be interested in learning whether you're able to find books that you want to read. Do books have unlimited access? (or is it like the library, where once x number people are reading a book, you have to wait for one of them to check in before you can check out.)

    •  Well, since both of these subscription services (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Abelia, RiveroftheWest

      are fairly new, I don't think they have had much impact on the  movement to ebook lending by libraries. What I have been able to find is that publishers simply hate the thought that libraries allow people to read their books (or ebooks) free. At the same time, they recognize that libraries are an effective way of encouraging the public to read. Love/hate relationship.

      And they really don't know how to price ebook licenses for libraries.

      You have unlimited access to the ebooks in the vendor's library. Scibd has all of the HarperCollins backlist, which is huge and Oyster has a selection of HarperCollins titles. Many of the authors that I enjoy are available on Scribd, especially for the Monday Night Mystery series.

      I think this business is still in its infancy, and it may not ever grow up, much less grow old. They are appealing to those with the disposable income who wish to have a large library at their fingertips on demand. I don't know how many subscribers it will take to make this a profitable venture, but Scribd raised $26 million to start their service.

      •  I was thinking Harper Collins (3+ / 0-)

        might have been looking ahead to this. They were the first ones (famously! I remember all the Facebook outrage at the time) to come up with the model where libraries are basically renting books. They "expire" after a certain number of digital reads. Ebooks are expensive for libraries (as a percentage of their collection) and they're out there doing free marketing and tech support for e-readers. All of our local libraries have demo nights or help desks and lending programs where people can learn how to use different e-readers. It seems like such a great opportunity for publishers to support.

        It reminds me also of the issues around radio play v. internet play for online music services. (the podcast of Sound Opinions has had some interesting shows on this topic.) As with libraries, these channels promote and let people know about the artists and songs. But the internet services can't (yet) afford to pay the same royalties as the big guys.

        It's such an interesting subject. Love your diaries on the epublishing world!

        •  Thanks, Abelia! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I had to teach our librarians how to use OverDrive. But then, we are at the end of the food chain out here where Christ lost his sandals.

          I wrote a three part series about libraries and ebooks, starting with Part I that explained who the players were and what they offered. Part II was a how-to guide for library patrons, and Part III was a look at the response from authors to the publishing world's efforts to derail eBook lending by libraries.

          I am sure publishers would prefer a straight pay as you read subscription service. But I don't think there are enough people with the kind of income that can sustain that as a widespread business model. I signed up for them only to make the comparison, I doubt that I will continue the subscription for long.

          Unless I find that I can save money by using one or the other.

  •  Scribd used to have their content for free (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29, RiveroftheWest

    and I posted two documents on it with the agreement that they would be free of charge to the public.

    Now they're charging for my documents without any remuneration on my part. That is an infringement on my rights and I resent them for it.

    A million Arcosantis.

    by Villabolo on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 12:08:09 PM PDT

  •  Amazon (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29, RiveroftheWest

    Anyone agree it's only a matter of time before Amazon has a Netflix-like book service? I think that'd be better, reading on the Kindle instead of my iPhone. Or an iPad,

  •  I'd be very eager to pay $9/mo for e-access (3+ / 0-)

    to a great academic or national research library -- say, the Library of Congress or the British Museum library.

    But for the Harper Collins book list? I'll pass.

  •  Fine diary, Susan! (3+ / 0-)

    I've often wished for reading goggles or something equivalent when having my nails done.  Toenails, no problem--I get to writhe in a chair that's surreptitiously massaging my back while the technician is working on my feet--but fingernails--oh, the boredom!

    The utter boredom of not being able to read, of having to stare at the televicious (always tuned to Crappy News Network), because the nail technician's command of English is insufficient to make any sort of conversation, is calculated to drive one to the very edge of madness.

    Those goggles can't come too soon for me!  Thanks for letting us know about it.  Even lumbering dinosaurs like me don't mind getting used to something new if it'll take away the boredom.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 01:54:11 PM PDT

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