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?

Bad cover? Forget reading the book

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Tables of books in stores are the ultimate proof that covers matter. If customers like what they see, they might even bother to read the description.

I like to showcase my favorite covers every Friday, but there’s more to it than good art. Some people believe that good designs conceal good books — or at least ones that are worth your time.

“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” Naomi Blackburn, one of the top Goodreads reviewers, told The Huffington Post. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”

Simply put, good covers sell books.

“In addition to promising what a book will deliver, the [cover] image also promises — or fails to promise — that the author is a professional, and that the book will honor the reader’s time,” said Smashwords founder Mark Coker.

Investing in an amazing cover can fool readers into thinking you acquired a publisher rather than self-published, which can negate the “it’s indie and crap” logic. A quality design can even interest retail merchandising managers, which can equal more sales. It also makes a book easier to market.

“The art shouldn’t fight the typography,” said Kris Miller, the designer for the Saima Agency. “A romance novel shouldn’t look like a thriller or visa versa.”

And strong, simple images “pop” best.

I gotta say — a beautiful, striking, or fun cover can make me interested in a book when I had no reason to be. So if you want people to take you seriously as a budding author, make sure you have the best picture to sell your many thousand words.

Did you ever find a beloved book by judging its cover first? Do you agree that a good cover usually means a good read?