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?

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

Microsoft gives $300 million to Barnes & Noble to fund new Nook subsidiary

Technology is expensive.

Microsoft recently granted Barnes & Noble $300 million to form a subsidiary dedicated entirely to the Nook. The Redmond-based corporation will have a 17.6 stake in the division, temporarily called “Newco,” which also incorporates B&N’s college textbook business.

The partnership is unexpected, since the companies were previously engaged in a lawsuit over supposed patent infringements associated with the e-reader. Their shared investment in Newco puts that feud to rest.

Perhaps Microsoft is considering its own agenda: “Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices, enabling people to not just read stories, but to be part of them,” Andy Lees, president of Microsoft, said. “We’re on the cusp of a revolution in reading.”

These days, e-readers are doing a lot more than storing books—they’re becoming multi-purpose devices, and that’s causing them to rise in price. The Nook Tablet, B&N’s most expensive model, costs $199. Compare that with the basic Nook Simple Touch, which is now priced at $79. Amazon offers a similar price range—the same at its lowest and highest ends, actually.

How much are you willing to pay for an e-reader, and how important are multimedia features to you? Reading will always be my top priority with these devices, but I do occasionally salivate over the glowing, full-color screens of better models.