A Brief Overview of Subscription Services

I really think that 2013 (or at least the latter half) is the year for subscription e-books. Several high-profile services have launched recently, many of them touted as the “Netflix for e-books” or the “Spotify for e-books.” I decided to do a little digging to see what other services where out there, and was surprised to find at least 29 e-book subscription services offered around the globe. Below is an overview of what I found.

The sites are split into a few loose categories. General interest means the site offers a wide variety of books, children’s are for the sites with content for children, niche means the sites are more narrowly focused, and other includes subscription sites for content that is not e-books (movies, music, and audio books). Note: there are a lot of other really cool sites and platforms, but for this post I focused only on services that charged a monthly subscription in exchange for access to e-books (plus that other section). They are displayed in no particular order.

Note: some criticisms about some of these sites are that instead of paying a monthly fee, you can borrow e-books for free from a library. In some cases, this can work. But, publishers tend to place a lot of restrictions on library e-books. For example, only a certain number can be checked out at once, so you may have to wait a while to read a book. Also, not all e-books may be offered, which is also the case for the services listed below. Each service is different, so you may have to do some research. Bookyards may be an interesting choice. The site claims to be “the library to the world,” though it currently only has ~18,000 books. Libraries are also slowly evolving. See “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Libraries, Discovery, and the Catalog: Scale, Workflow, Attention” to learn a little more.

App/Website (General Interest) Titles Cost Pros Cons
Oyster 100,000+ traditionally published e-books and Smashwords e-books $9.95/month, unlimited access Offline reading; cancel anytime; social aspects iPhone only (iPad soon); mostly backlist titles; no browsing
Entitle (formerly eReatah) 80,000+ e-books (full catalog from publishers involved) $16.99 for 2 e-books/month, $25.50 for 3, $33.50 for 4 Offline reading; Android and iOS; works like a book club; interesting recommendation system Price; e-books have DRM, so don’t actually own the e-books (license)
Kindle Owners Lending Library Over 350,000 e-books $79/year, as part of Amazon Prime Large selection; easy access on Kindle Can only borrow one title per month
Scribd 40 million documents from 100 countries in 80 languages (# of e-books unknown, ~8-10% of U.S. market) Free with limited access OR $8.99/month unlimited HTML5 website and app; iOS and Android app; embed documents; publishers see analytics, like Google analytics; publisher paid for page views; marketing vehicle for authors; syncs pages read across devices; Some people have complained about the design
Byliner 30,000+ short stories (1,500+ authors) $0.99 per week for 3-5 curated stories OR $5.99 unlimited monthly Works through Byliner Explore; authors include Jon Krakauer, Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan and Susan Orlean; stories take 5 minutes to 2 hours to read; find stories based on time you have to read; curated stories/recommendations; very visual and easy to find stories; online and iOS; save on virtual “nightstand”; offline reading; social sharing Only shorts
Emily Books Receive a selection each month, includes introduction, extra essays, and Q&A with author 1 e-book per month for $13.99/month or $159.99/year via website (download DRM-free version) + read on app OR 1 e-book per month for $9.99/month or $99.99/year via the iOS app (read only on app) Has almost 200 subscribers; sold over 1,000 titles Only one e-book per month
Librify N/A One discounted e-book/month Book of the month club style; social reading; recommendations Unsure about selection and price
Storyville 20+ stories, new stories every week $1.49/month OR $4.99/6 months New story once per week; archives; download iOS only
24 Symbols (Spain) 15,000+ titles in English and Spanish with 120+ publishers and 175,000+ users €9.99 per month, €19.99 per quarter or €59.99 per year (unlimited) Free trial period; read on iOS or Android apps, or web browser; offline reading (with paid subscription); free reading (online only, with ads); share and comment; follow readers; provides data to publishers (number of readers, pages read, social aspects); works with aggregators and publishers No self-published titles; only EPUB2 currently
Nubico (Spain) thousands (exact number unknown) €8.99/month, though Circulo and Telefonica´s customers (the companies behind Nubico) get free access Cloud storage and accessible via computers, tablets, ereaders, and phones; build libraries No downloading/offline reading
Skoobe (Germany) 25,000+ books from 400+ publishers €9.99/month for 2 e-books (1st month 1/2 price) Read offline; new titles every week; rate and review; night mode; use up to 3 devices; sync; Android, iOS, and Kindle app Mostly only German titles; navigation and search could be improved; technical limitations (cheaper subscription means lo in everyday to re-validate files, and download up to 3 titles o 2 devices, while premium subscribers can download up to 15 titles and stay offline for up to one month)
Nuvem de Libros (Brazil) 7,000 titles, audiobooks, videos, interviews, classes, textbooks N/A (uses mobile number) Android and iOS Virtual only, no offline reading
Oi Bookstore (Brazil) 130 e-books $2/week (unlimited, but read 3 books at a time) Share on Facebook and Twitter No offline reading
Mofibo (Denmark) 5,500+ e-books $17.50/month (unlimited) Library; search; read later; offline reading; share with friends; 1st month free iPhone and iPad only
Riidr One (Denmark) 6,500+ e-books and 1500 audiobooks $12/month (only 1 title) Able to purchase and download (own) e-books, singles, and audiobooks (larger selection) Just launched in July 2013, so not much data
Yindo (Netherlands) 150 e-books at launch (may be more now) N/A Mobile and web version (HTML5?); option to rent and buy books; purchase books at a discount; developing a self-publishing side Can only read one e-book per month
Bookmate (Russia) 65,000+ e-books, both public domain and from publishers (147,000+ users) €2.5/month Android, iOS, and web; able to upload own books, sync on devices, and share with friends; unlimited cloud storage for e-books; 50/50 revenue share with publishers App can be buggy (not always saving place in book)
Legimi (Poland) 2,000+ e-books $3/month, (smartphone only); 7 day free trial; $6/month for tablet and smartphone (all unlimited) Android, iOS, and Windows; interesting business model where it only pays full price of e-book after consumer reads more than 10% free sample; sync library; access and choice to also buy/download e-books; readers know when and how much time spent reading a book; cancel anytime or pay in advance; offline reading App may be buggy
KDDI (Japan) 500 e-books at launch this December (goal of 2,000 e-books by April 2014) $8/month Comics, magazines, and novels Android only (at first)
Finitiv N/A N/A Turnkey platform for book publishers, to use to create collections of books people can subscribe to each month Too soon to tell
App/Website (Children’s) Titles Cost Pros Cons
StoriesAlive ~200 ebooks $7.99/month Multimedia, interactive stories; MyStories feature that lets kids make their own ebooks; Parents Corner that gives data on kids’ reading activity; iOS and Android; stories for children 3-8 Too soon to tell
Tales2Go 3,500+ audiobooks Pay $1 per e-book checkout Offline reading; iOS and Android; shared bookmarks Audiobooks only
Scholastic’s Storia 2,000+ e-books 5 free books; pay for more books individually, with Scholastic account Parents and teachers can monitor progress; enhanced app with activities to test reading and comprehension within books (Common Core Standard); keep books on shelf to read later; built in dictionary; for Kindle, iPhone, iPad, and Windows Can be expensive
FarFaria 450+ e-books, with 5 new books added each week $3.99/month (unlimited); free for first 30 days or 1 free book each day; OR $21.99/6 months (unlimited); OR $39.99/annual (unlimited) No ads; offline reading; read aloud and interactive; fun, easy map to search for stories; categorized by genre and reading level; library shelf Can be buggy
iStoryTime 200 e-books $5/month (unlimited); can also buy e-books one at a time parents curate content; parents can also earn points from ads to download e-books for free; no ads for kids Auto play doesn’t have all characters’ voices
Propell 40 e-books, in 13 languages (downloaded over 300,000 times) €6.50/month App developed specifically for kids’ use Only iPad; only in Norway (for now)
MeeGenius At least 700 titles, with 10 e-books added each week $499/annual (for schools); or individual e-book priced between 99 cents and $4.99; some introductory books free Authors can submit their own manuscripts (for stories aimed at 8 and under) and split revenue; all e-books are enhanced with narration; Android and iOS; over 2 million users; accounts for libraries and schools; iterates based on feedback; offline reading; sync to web and mobile App is sometimes buggy and crashes
Bookboard 400 e-books $8.99/month, or $29.94/6 months (both unlimited access) Gamified to encourage more reading; data on child’s reading habits (parent portal); offline reading; audio books too; free trial and cancel anytime iPad only (sample online)
Amazon Kindle Freetime Unlimited 1,000+ e-books, plus movies and TV shows $2.99 per child or $6.99 per family per month (prime);
or $9.99/family per month
Parents manage what kids view; unlimited access to books per month (unlike Prime); many books from well-known publishers for kids Only on Kindle devices (obviously)
Sesame Street eBooks 170 e-books $3.99/month or $39.99/year Read free samples; rate books; parents and kids mode; filter and search No offline reading; requires flash
Reading Rainbow 300 e-books and 50 videos $9.99/month, or
$29.99/6 months
Gamified (sticker system); intuitive; enhanced illustrations with animations iOS app only; no separate profiles for multiple kids; read only one book for trial period; videos not clearly marked
PlayTales 200+ ebooks Pay per book; Gold version is free with ads, or pay for no ads Teaches kids spelling and vocab; books in 8 languages; Gold version includes songs, activities, and games; Sometimes the app is buggy
Epic! 2,000+ ebooks $9.99/month or $79.99/year (also one month free trial) Free iPad app; recommendation engine; offline reading iOS only
Brain Hive 5,000+ e-books Pay $1 per e-book checkout Free membership; option to purchase books rented; data on who’s reading what and for how long; students can access (if school permits); schools can prepay with credits and be notified of spending limit; fully functional on all web browsers (most likely HTML5) Only head librarians, principals, and district reps can enroll (not necessarily a bad thing); only in U.S. (for now)
World Book 29 e-books (soon to be 80) N/A (but unlimited and simultaneous access) E-books are interactive, with Common Core Standards; no waiting period For librarians and schools only
App/Website (Niche) Titles Cost Pros Cons
Safari Books Online 24,000+ e-books (all non-fiction, many technology and business-related) For individuals (other plans for groups/businesses): 10 day free trial (or first 1,000 page views), then $19.99/month, then $27.99/month after 6 months for 10 books and/or videos per month, OR $42.99/month unlimited OR $10/month for 5 books at a time Offline reading; good search feature; unlimited plan allows access to videos and unpublished books you can give feedback on Must keep books for one month at a time; pricy compared to video service like Lynda.com
CourseSmart 40,000+ titles from 50+ publishers $200 flat fee for 6 e-books/150 days (Subscription Packs) College students save money on textbooks; unlimited access; offline reading; iOS, Android, and mobile apps; Search, highlight, and take notes; create study guides; share and print Poor zoom feature; offline reading only in Firefox
StudySoup N/A, but has 40+ colleges and universities and 8,000+ student users $14.65/month for publishers/universities (cheapest option); students pay per course reader but start with free account = 10 materials/month, 2GB cloud storage Students can study using laptops, tablets; integrates articles, chapters, audio, animation, and video (can remix materials); students can share notes, upload readings, presentations, and pictures, and access on any browser (probably HTML5); will be able to see analytics and create custom content; students don’t have to carry heavy books Can’t print any materials (due to copyright)
Marvel Unlimited 13,000+ Marvel comics $9.99/month; OR $69/annual; OR $99/annual plus (includes early access, a collectible kit, access to events, discounts on swag) Android, iOS app and web; offline reading (12 comics at a time); new issues and classics added each week (but may take up to 6 months); U.S. only; app may be buggy (no proper panel view, no zoom); some low-res images
F+W Media’s Artists Network 100+ art instruction e-books $19.99/month or $199.99/year (both unlimited access) Android and iOS app; easy search; fully illustrated e-books; take notes, add bookmarks, and create a library Small selection (probably due to niche)
App/Website (Other than books) Titles Cost Pros Cons
Audible 150,000+ audiobooks $14.95/month membership (plus 1-month free trial) Get one book each month (actually own it); affiliate program; cancel or change membership anytime; customer support Some complaints about canceling membership; some complaints of app functionality
Bardowl (UK) 100+ audiobooks £9.99/month, unlimited access Free app with one free hour of listening; offline listening; share quotes Audiobooks only; iOS only
Netflix More content than Hulu (30 million streaming users; in 40 countries) $7.99/month for 2 devices; $11.99/month for 4 devices (unlimited streaming) Easy to use; access on many devices; original content; lots of movies and TV shows; Netflix for kids (programming); ability to create multiple profiles Selection; TV shows tend to be one season behind; not really any premium channel shows; must be online to watch
Hulu 70,000+ TV shows, 57,000 hours of content (4 million paying subscribers on 350 million devices) Free (with limited access); OR $7.99/month for Hulu Plus Access to newer content (TV shows often the day after being aired); Ads even with paid subscription; must be online to watch
Pandora Over 900,000 songs and 90,000+ artists (as of end of 2011) Free with ads (unlimited/320 hours/month); OR $36/year for Pandora One Music Genome Project; create 100 unique stations; opt-out of targeted ads; stream select albums before they go on sale; integrated with Facebook; share tracks with friends or buy the mp3; shows lyrics and other song info; skip 6 tracks/hour Other services better at customization (Slacker Radio)
Spotify N/A (but a LOT) Free (unlimited streaming w/ads); OR $4.99/month (desktop/sync locally stored music); OR $9.99/month (mobile) for offline streaming Offline streaming (paid); integrated with Facebook and Twitter; able to play on pretty much all devices; email playlists; available in 30 countries; library, playlist, and radio links; integrated already downloaded music into library; cloud-based playlists up to 10,000 songs Lots of ads in free version

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