Why the new ‘Netflix for books’ is useless to me

tree readingMaybe you heard that Smashwords has partnered with Scribd to deliver a “Netflix for books” service. For $9 a month, you can read as much as you want.

That’s a good price — $9 easily covers one book or 40 — but to me, it’s a useless deal. Here’s why:

I just upgraded to a Kindle Paperwhite because I wanted to experience the comfort of reading on a brightly lit screen and the speed of near-instant flipping between pages, like I get on my iPad. But I also wanted to eliminate the glare of LCD and the distraction of apps, push-notifications, and the Internet.

As wonderful as Scribd sounds (it offers access to more than 40 million books — a giant library for digital reading), you can only use it on web-enabled devices like iOS and Android phones, tablets, and desktop computers. The Kindle Fire and Nook HD support Scribd, but the Paperwhite — or any other e-ink reader — does not.

That’s probably not Scribd’s fault. Amazon can control its content on its own e-readers, for examples, whereas other devices allow for third-party apps (including the Kindle Fire, which is only semi-closed and based on Android’s open platform). That could be a contributing reason.

Regardless, Scribd is still useless to me — for now, anyway. But I’m curious what effect its emergence could have on libraries across the country. As more people convert to e-readers and more of them seek digital books, how many will resort to a single, convenient source like Scribd, which, as long as you maintain an ongoing subscription, enforces no limits on the length of time you can read books (unlike library rentals)? I find that e-book loaning from local libraries can be both complicated and slow. I doubt Scribd would be nearly as grueling.

Does a “Netflix for books” interest you even if you have to read on LCD screens to get it? Do you think it could threaten local libraries?

Early Michael Crichton (that Jurassic Park guy) books coming out


If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, then you’ll be happy to know some of his earliest works are releasing as e-books soon. No need to travel to a secret island to find copies (you can grab them in print form, but many sell for hundreds of dollars).

Crichton wrote 10 novels under three different pen names at the start of his career, back when he was studying in medical school in the 1960s. Open Road Integrated Media is publishing the first digital editions of books like Odds On (his premiere novel) and even Dealing or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, which Crichton wrote with his brother Douglas.

Open Road referred to them as “The Med School Years.” *snicker*

The author used the pseudonyms John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, and Michael Douglas.

Here’s the full list:

Writing as John Lange:

  • Odds On
  • Scratch One
  • Easy Go
  • The Venom Business
  • Zero Cool
  • Drug of Choice
  • Grave Descend
  • Binary

Writing as Jeffery Hudson:

  • A Case of Need 

Writing as Michael Douglas:

  • Dealing or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues

14 Kurt Vonnegut e-books for $1.99 each

Kindle Daily Deal Kurt VonnegutAmazon’s Kindle Daily Deal today is on 14 select Kurt Vonnegut books.

I don’t see Slaughterhouse-Five or Breakfast of Champions on there, but I do see Mother Night and Player Piano. And at $1.99 each, you really can’t complain too much.

What’s your favorite Vonnegut book? Such a great author! My boyfriend and I both love reading him.

Awesome book cover Friday: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Thanksgiving food books

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday. Thanksgiving was a little different for me this year. My parents traveled across the country to visit my eldest sister, and my boyfriend drove out of state to spend the day with part of his family. Even so, I had a great time and enjoyed the company, and I’m definitely enjoying the extra-long weekend break! I’ve been sleeping in, eating leftovers, and watching TV shows — Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, and Twin Peaks (the clear inspiration for one of my new favorite video games, Deadly Premonition). And of course, reading! I’m busy with a book for Kirkus Indie and with Life of Pi for my two-person book club. :D

This year, I’m thankful for my family and amazing boyfriend, but I’m also grateful that my grandpa could make it home for the holiday. He hasn’t been doing so well lately and has been spending a lot of time in the hospital, trying to get better. It made Thanksgiving more special that we could have him with us.

What are you thankful for this year? Books are something we can all be happy about! This week’s pick is a children’s classic, rereleased as an e-book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Do you like the cover? I adore the bright colors and childish flair to it, and I can imagine kids would be drawn to the style. That brings up an interesting topic. Where do you stand on publishers rereleasing classics with more modern covers? As someone who looks for the most aesthetic version of a book, I’m totally for them. And if it gets a book back into print (or in this case, fresh availability as an e-book) — even better. The way I see it, if a fancy cover gets young readers to try an old book instead of passing it by, what’s the harm?

Smart technology: Your e-books are reading you, too

e-book data

Amazon and other publishers are gathering personal information on readers through their e-books.

The synchronization features built into these programs track usage on what you read, how fast you read, and where you take notes, among other habits, according to an article on German international broadcaster DW.de. For example, these publishers know that the average reader will finish Mockingjay — the last book in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy — in seven hours on a Kobo device. That’s 57 pages every hour.

Some of this probably isn’t a surprise, though. Even users can look at the most highlighted passages in an e-book. If collecting data on users’ reading patterns is a breach of confidentiality, then what about the ability to check the most popular quotes and see what other people have underlined?

“We just know that it’s being done,” said Thilo Weichert, the data protection commissioner for the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. “And we also know what the potential for it is. It’s certain that the U.S. does it because their data protection laws do not prevent it.”

With this kind of information, e-book providers can cue publishers and authors in to more potential buyers based on those readers’ interests. Is this distrustful or just another way of marketing smarter?

Most e-book readers use cell phones and computers

nookwinners2If you had to guess, you’d probably say most people who read e-books are doing so on a Kindle or Nook, right?

Apparently not. A new Pew survey shows that among e-book readers under 30-years-old, 55 percent are more likely to use a computer, and 41 percent would use a cell phone — compare that to the 23 percent who would use an e-book reader and the 16 percent who prefer a tablet.

nookwinners5But considering how many people own smartphones these days, maybe that shouldn’t be such a shock. I can’t help but feel surprised, though, especially when I learned that most e-book readers are between the ages of 30-39. If e-books are contributing to the rise of reading in America, you might expect the highest group of e-readers to be teens or twentysomethings. The survey recorded that 47 percent of young people read long-form digital content including books, magazines, and newspapers.

Still, the 18-24 age group has the most readers overall (of print, e-format, and audiobooks) at 88 percent, followed by 86 percent in the 16-17 range. The 30-39 group came in at 84 percent. People over 65-years-of-age accounted for the fewest readers at 68 percent.

I guess e-book devices are a gadget that just hasn’t caught on to much younger readers. Why is that, do you think? Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve seen an ad that markets e-readers to teens, who are always using cell phones — have you?

The study also confirmed that most younger readers don’t know libraries offer e-books even though it’s a desirable option to them. That drives forward the importance of stronger e-book support and advertising at libraries and in communities, including schools.

Photo credit: Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Introducing the Humble E-book Bundle: Get books, support charity, help authors

Humble E-Book Bundle

For the next week, you can score 13 e-books for $12.81, and every penny you spend can go toward supporting the authors or select charities.

What is this miracle deal? It started as The Humble Indie Bundle, which is a changing collection of digital video games at a highly reduced price. These sell like crazy, and now the organization behind it has started doing the same with e-books. They’ve already sold over 50,000 bundles.

humble e-book bundle mainSo you not only get great books for a fraction of their total value ($157 to be exact), but also help out the people who write them — and some great charities, too. It’s your choice. You decide how your payment is split down to the last cent, and you can even donate to the Humble Bundle team if you wish.

As long as you beat the average (currently $12.80), you’ll get all 13 books — along with (here’s a tip) any they decide to add in before the promotion ends. Or you can pay less (name your price) and still get six e-books: Pirate Cinema, Pump Six and Other Stories, Zoo City, Invasion: The Secret World Chronicle, Stranger Things Happen, and Magic for Beginners.

The bonus e-books are Old Man’s War, comic collections Attack of the Bacon Robots; Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings; Save Yourself, Mammal!; The Most Dangerous Game; Xkcd: volume 0; and the graphic novel Signal to Noise.

This time, donations benefit the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Child’s Play Charity, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The e-books are DRM-free and come in multiple formats, including PDF, MOBI, and ePub.

Print book collections are a statement about you and your life

Coffee table books

Digital might be the future, but a love of print books seems to go deeper than nostalgia. A personal library can say more about you than a hundred e-files can.

“When you have people over, you don’t show off your iPad library,” Josh Baker, the art director of Taschen Books, told The Independent. “There’s something about physical books that allows owners to make a statement about themselves and life.”

The quote comes from an article about the prevalence of coffee table books (including cookbooks) despite the digital revolution that’s crushing many print releases.

“Illustrated books and art books have withstood the digital decline that the rest of the industry is facing,” said Tom Tivnan, the features editor of The Bookseller. “The ‘beautiful’ books are the print books that will survive in the digital age. The latest Bookscan figures suggest, for example, that sales of individual monograph art books were up 70 per cent last year.”

Do you think coffee table books are “physical publishing’s last, best hope,” as it says in the article?

I do think home collections are a great way to show others the kind of person you are — and what you believe in. Someone who owns a lot of cooking and home-decorating books, for example, would likely be domestic at heart and value family and closeness.

New update to Readmill makes it easier to use and connect

Readmill has introduced a new update to their iPad app that makes it easier for readers and publishers to use.

Aside from letting people discuss their DRM-free books, the app now features a “Library” function, which creates a cloud-based index of your books and allows you to access them anytime, from anywhere. Secondly, “Send to Readmill” will transfer newly purchased books to the Library without hassle.

The DRM-free focus encourages people to buy from independent bookstores, rather than Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“This is a way of bridging the gap between buying from these stores and being able to share books,” the company’s community manager, Matthew Bostock, told GigaOM.

This sounds like a great app, but unfortunately you have to own an iPad to take full advantage of it. However, Readmill is growing in platform and as a community. It currently offers a Bookmarklet that allows you to share highlights from Kindle books, and “ReadMore” and “ReadTracker” for iPhone and Android, respectively, allow you to add paper books to your Library. Users can also share their activity on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

I made an account for fun, if anyone wants to see what it looks like.

So here’s my question to you: Do you buy from indie bookshops? I’d like to expand what stores I buy my paperbacks and e-books from and support smaller business, rather than the big two. Tor is apparently launching a DRM-free e-book store this summer.