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eBook Subscriptions – A Comparison

The last few weeks have seen the launch of several new ebook providers, looking to change how readers acquire their content. Most people have some experience with Netflix for movies and Spotify for music. It makes logical sense that ebooks, as digitally delivered content, would enter the subscription delivery business at some point. It is a model I’ve looked at for three years for Dreamspinner’s titles, but the technology to make it viable has been prohibitive.

Three big players have almost simultaneously jumped into the market: Oyster, Scribd and Entitle (formally eReatah). Oyster and Scribd are basically digital lending libraries with a small monthly fee for access. Books aren’t purchased. They are downloaded and controlled through the app for offline reading, but if the subscription expires, the user loses all access. Entitle is more of a book club. You choose your level of service (2-4 books a month). Once you choose and download your books, they are yours, even if you discontinue the subscription in the future.

Oyster Books

Oyster Books App
  • $9.95/month for unlimited reads from their catalog.
  • Up to six devices (currently only available on iPhone, iPad is scheduled later this fall, and Android after that).
  • 100,000 ebook titles available from publishers such as HarperCollins, Workman, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. They are also pairing with Smashwords. The publishers are seeing this as a way to feature backlist titles, so I wouldn’t expect to see many just released blockbusters.
  • Computer and app interface is clean and elegant with five custom themes you can choose, featuring different typography and styles. Designed for mobile selection and reading.
  • Social media integration, including keeping up with what your friends are reading and curating your own public or private library.
  • Book recommendation feature.


  • $9/month or $48/year for unlimited reads from their catalog.
  • Unlimited devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, and browser access) The app keeps track of where you are in your book even if you open it on a different device.
  • Smaller number of books in their premium library. Still primarily independent publishers. 30 million books and documents in their free service library, which is more a file sharing site and has a large number of business and technical documents. As a positive perk for publishers if you upload your titles to their premium library, the “fingerprint” of the book goes into their anti-piracy software and prevents others from uploading your titles.
  • Computer and app interface are intuitive and easy to use.
  • Book recommendation feature.

Scridb has a step up on the others because it is an established business (2007) with over 100 million existing users of its free platform. If they can capitalize on that and increase their premium title base, they will have a distinct advantage. (edited 10/21/13 – You can read a great interview with the president of Scribd about ebook subscription services, including their financial terms for publishers. Interview with Scribd’s Trip Adler.)


  • No set fee per month. You load a credit on the site and as you read, it is deducted from your balance. There is a free credit for signing up that allows you to try the service.
  • Pay per page read. Pages are priced based on the relative retail price of the book. Read 10% for 10% of the price of the book. Pages you spend less than 5 seconds on aren’t charged.
  • Books can be read offline, but you have to be online to download new books to your device or purchase more credits.
  • App is available for both Android tablets and iPads. There is currently no app for phones.


  • Three plans: 2 books/month for $14.99, 3 books/month for $21.99, 4 books/month for $27.99
  • Apps available for phones, tablets and computers.
  • On and offline reading
  • 100,000 titles from all the major publishers
  • Curated collections for recommendations
  • Consumer owns the books they purchase even if they discontinue the service, but they still have to be read through the app.
  • Book recommendation feature.

While all the companies boast an impressive book recommendation feature that blends what you’ve read, your interests from social media sites you’ve connected, and mysterious, technical sounding algorithms, Entitle wins the award for best functionality with its, “If These Books Had a Baby” feature. Choose two parent books, and their algorithm will blend the base elements of both and supply you with recommendations.

So what do you think? Would you use a service like this?

Published in Publishing


  1. I wouldn't be an early adopter. If I knew my favorite authors would be available, maybe I would sign on. But would the service be flexible enough for me? Not so sure. I'm kind of old fashioned and like having books in my library. I like having a collection. While I would definitely sign on for a music or video streaming service, I'm less sold on doing so for books. Some months I read a lot, some months hardly at all. I'd probably end up trying it out and if I like the results I would continue the service.

    Oh, and I despise recommendation algorithms. Don't trust 'em. They always skew me toward bestsellers, bigger names, and overlook the quirky books and new authors I actually want to find.

    That said, I think this kind of thing may be the future of mass market book selling. New readers will find book streaming easy and exciting.

  2. I think it is a model that is definitely skewed to the younger audience, but that is where the industry is developing. We know what works for the established readers. It is finding the delivery system that will keep younger readers finding and reading books. Statistics are showing that under 25 readers are reading more than they have in the last 4 decades, but it is mostly on their phone.

  3. So true, I'm 22 and I read 98% of my books on my iPhone. Either on the kindle app or the adobe reader app. And I read a lot of them, for pleasure, for beta, for proofing, & for review.

  4. I hear that a lot, and the apps for these subscriptions are really well designed for mobile reading and mobile browsing. The Amazon app works fine for reading but acquiring the books is a little cumbersome.

  5. I agree with Tali. I would add that, even if my favorite authors were available, I like to choose what to read depending mood, available time, etc.

  6. I think having all the available titles at your fingertips would increase flexibility due to mood etc. I never thought it would happen, but my ereader is full and I cycle books on and off. This would give you more options without having them physically stored on your device.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing for or against – Just looking at all sides. I have no doubt that it isn't the service for everyone.

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