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?

Love your e-reader? Good: You’re not a book snob

book snobI came across a pretty funny article recently on The Telegraph: “Why book snobs are worse than Kindle fans.” It’s a rather sarcastic and abrasive piece, so prepare yourself now.

The article (which is intentionally hyperbolic) argues that people who hate e-readers and clutch their paperbacks or leather-bound hardcovers dearly to their chests are really materialistic idiots who are against reading itself, not the e-revolution. They think every Kindle or Nook owner bought one to read crappy grocery store aisle romances or widely panned novels like 50 Shades of Grey that they’re too embarrassed and ashamed to read in public, and these same critics bandy about shallow reasons for why print books are better:

No, you can’t proudly display your Kindle library in your dining room, or dash off some awful contrived inscription in the front because you once saw someone do that in a film, but that’s not really what books are for, is it? They’re for reading, and that experience is even better on an electronic machine than in print.

This argument should be the end of it, but it doesn’t satisfy the snobs, because for them books have nothing to do with reading. They are actually material for interior design – bits of incredibly naff “retro chic” pretence, rather than great works of art. Alongside your Smythson writing desk and your collection of vinyls comes a stack of neglected classics, destined to be judged only by their covers. These people should be off buying tweed or lobbying for signatures to join a Pall Mall members club, not lecturing on how to enjoy literature.

It’s a harsh stance, but if you can swallow the scathing remarks, the writer actually makes a good point: All the reasons why we cling to print books over e-books are trivial and petty. What does it matter which is better as long as you’re reading? Do we have to divide ourselves into groups — readers and e-book readers — or can we all just agree that more reading is good?

It’s like complaining that you’re not a “real reader” unless you only devour classics — not stupid popular books like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty snobbish attitude, too. It’s okay not to like the classics. They can be pretty boring at times.

What do you think of the writer’s attack on print-book snobs? Agree or disagree?

Goodbye, Goodreads: Readers are leaving a strong community behind


When news broke that Amazon bought Goodreads for close to $150 million, the book world freaked. People were scared and saddened — their honest, independent community was in the claws of the Amazon empire. Everyone’s in a rush to leave before the destruction hits.

This is the end of the “good” in Goodreads … isn’t it?

Maybe not. I’m not one to judge companies too early. No matter what their public face looks like, a company is a business, not a friendly neighbor. And if Goodreads is Joe Friendly and Amazon is the Mean Old Man, remember that Goodreads had a part in this transaction, too. Amazon didn’t pounce on an innocent bystander — or, if we’re still using the suburban analogy, catch him unsuspected with the water hose.

Right now, Goodread is still Goodreads, and you can’t be mad at it for making a new friend even if you don’t like the choice. So we’re all shifting that blame on to Amazon, the great evil that’s buying up the book market as rapidly as possible.

From a business standpoint, Amazon made a smart decision: Goodreads is an advantageous acquisition. But this doesn’t mean that it’s going to transform Goodreads from the ground up into something more flattering to its image.

Read More

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Art of Fielding on sale today

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal includes a couple goodies: the teen book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, both of which I’ve heard are very good. Each is $1.99 right now.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHere’s a description of Miss Peregrine’s:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets 16-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here — one of whom was his own grandfather — were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow — impossible though it seems — they may still be alive.

The Art of FieldingAnd Art of Fielding:

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment — to oneself and to others.

The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel and On the Island: A Novel are also on sale.

Have/would you read these?

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

It’s a Philip K. Dick book palooza (and other good reasons to join the Kindle club)

Kindle Daily DealsIf you haven’t signed up for the Kindle Daily Deals newsletter yet, all it takes is a few clicks and an email address.

From there, you’ll receive regular alerts about digital sales — like today’s Philip K. Dick e-book collection for $1.99 a pop (still going on).

But the Daily Deals page features more than just one special; plenty of Kindle books go for $3.99 or less. You never know what you’ll find.

Happy hunting! What’s your favorite PKD book?

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.

Target boycotts Kindle and other Amazon products

Target stores have decided to stop selling the Amazon Kindle and its accessories—but not other e-readers, like Apple’s iPad or Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

The New York Times quoted a letter from Target executives to vendors: “What we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices.”

Back in December, Amazon offered customers discounts of up to $5 if they visited brick-and-mortar stores, scanned items, and then bought them through the online-only retailer instead. Books were not included in the promotion, but it was an underhanded tactic.

What do you think? Should Target be commended for standing up to Amazon?

See John Carter in theaters, then read the book

Personally, I’m not endorsing the new John Carter movie, which arrived in theaters last Friday. If you like director Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo and WALL-E fame or have a taste for interplanetary adventures, then maybe it’s worth watching despite the splattering of negative scores that’s currently hitting Rotten Tomatoes. But for me, commercials for the movie rung a too close to Prince of Persia, a mediocre Disney film released in recent years.

Whether or not you plan to frequent the theater soon to see John Carter, you can always download the book it’s based on—and right now the Kindle version of A Princess of Mars, the first in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science fantasy series Barsoom, is free on Amazon. That’s too good a deal to pass up, especially considering the book’s resounding four-and-a-half star aggregate customer score on the website.

Besides A Princess of Mars and its respective eleven-book series, Burroughs created Tarzan of the Apes, which led to a series of different adaptations, including Disney’s animated production Tarzan in 1999.

A Princess of Mars was previously a direct-to-DVD movie from film studio and distributor The Asylum and has inspired a number of comic books and other appearances, such as a cameo in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.