To Scribd, or Not To Scribd? That is the Question.

February 3, 2014

So… I signed up for Scribd. I am still in my trial month. In case you have been living under a rock and are thinking, “Penny, what in the dickens is Scribd?” Scribd is an essentially a digital library via tablet and web app. Subscribers can pay a monthly subscription fee of $8.99 to have access to Scribd’s library to read an unlimited number of books a month. Check out Scribd’s about page for more information. I love the concept of a “Netflix for books”, but I was and still am a little uncertain of the execution. I went with Scribd because unlike similar app Oyster, which is only available as and app on Apple scribdhomedevices, Scribd is available for Android and Apple users. Oyster also costs more, but that wasn’t really a consideration for me, since I have an Android tablet. I hope that by signing up for Scribd, I am not contributing to the decline of the publishing world, or robbing participating authors and publishers blind. So far, in order to validate my subscription, at least in my mind, I have approached my reading of books on Scribd by choosing to read things that I probably would not have bought otherwise.  That way, no one is missing out on any royalties from yours truly that they would normally have received, and anything they do receive is a bonus. I am well aware that this is not a completely sound rationale, but for now, it is making me feel better about doing it.

That being said, I signed up for Scribd on January 18th, and so far I’ve read 18 books. Seriously Penny? Yeah. 18 books in 16 days. I realize I am not the target demographic that Scribd is looking for. If everyone read like me, Scribd would be bankrupt. Since I do have a husband and occasionally a life outside of reading, I will probably not continue to read at the rate of 1.13 books per day, (I admit to gorging myself like a kid in a candy store for these first 16 days),  but I will probably consistently read more than what my $8.99 a month subscription will pay for.

So, after 16 days of use, here are my thoughts:

  • The interface is decent. You can make more adjustments to text size, font, margins, etc. when reading in Nook or Kindle, so this comes across as a little bare bones to me, but it works. I will say that the margins are wide for someone with crap vision, so I am hoping that they come up with an option to adjust those soon.
  • You do have the option to download books to your device, so you can read when not connected to the internet.
  • There are a lot of books to choose from. There is even a decent selection of LGBT books, mostly gay fiction, and mostly from what I observed, books from Dreamspinner Press, which is one of my favorite publishers. Dreamspinner was really smart about what they made available to subscribers. It appeared that the books Dreamspinner made available to Scribd subscribers were all at least a year old, meaning that if you want a new release, you will have to buy it. Which I applaud. If a book just released, and I want to read it, I want to support the author by buying it.
  • Browsing for books…their browse feature works, but I’d like to have more options when it comes to sorting. Sorting by series with series numbered in order would be a huge plus. Also, publisher descriptions are not available on many books, so I was having to look up books on goodreads.com  if I didn’t already know what they were about.
  • One negative: Piracy. Scribd allows subscribers to upload documents, and in searching for a couple of authors, I did come across a couple of documents that were clearly books by the authors I was looking for, and they clearly had been uploaded by people other that the authors or publishers. Needless to say I did not open them. I have written to Scribd support to find out what to do if you suspect someone of piracy, and I’ll let you know what I hear back. Scribd does have clear procedures if you are the author or publisher claiming copyright infringement, and they seem to be pretty responsive to requests, but as a reader/ user of the site it was not clear what I was supposed to do. If you are a Scribd user,  please do not upload anything that you do not own the rights to, and as a user, do not read anything that isn’t clearly coming from the author or publisher. Scribd has made statements regarding what it is doing to combat piracy, including this article from Publisher’s Weekly.

Things I still have questions about.

  • How much are authors making? The best answer I can get is it seems to vary, and not everyone is publishing their rates. Scribd is making deals with individual publishers, so it is not clear if everyone is getting the same deal or not. Right now Smashwords (who has detailed their agreement) explains in their blog post that their agreement with Scribd’s subscription service works as follows, “For Scribd’s subscription ebook service, authors will earn 60% of the list price on all qualifying reads, and here they’ve added a cool twist.  With subscription services, the author or publisher earns credit for a full read when the reader reaches a certain trigger point, measured by the percentage of the book that is read.  The first 10% of the book is a free sample, similar to a retailer.  Excluding the sample, once the reader reads an additional 20% of the book, a full sale is triggered and the Smashwords author earns 60% of the list price, up to a maximum of about $12.50 per read.  In practice, what this means for most fiction writers is that after the reader reads more than the first 30% of your book, it triggers a full sale.” Now that doesn’t sound too shabby, but what kind of deal did other publishers get? I want to know what the authors I am reading are getting. Amy Lane, Mary Calmes, Dreamspinner Press, anyone want to weigh in?
  • In addition to how much authors are making, I am wondering if anyone will be making money off of me? See, I have a short story up for free on Smashwords. It is not up on Scribd yet, but it will be, and as it is free, I won’t get anything for it. Scribd will make subscription money whether or not my story exists, but will Smashwords make any money from Scribd on my free story? I don’t know, but if so, it makes me want to keep my story off Scribd. Anyway, I’ll let you know what I find out on that front.

In conclusion, I’m not sure what I want to do. From my standpoint, I like Scribd and it is worth the subscription fee for me to continue. However, I know that if I continue the subscription, I will still buy books, but I will buy fewer books. If a lot of people do the same thing, that could really affect the publishing world. I’m going to keep a close eye on things while I try to figure out if Scribd is an experiment that I want to participate in or not, and I will post updates is I find out any new information about author pay, publisher deals, or piracy. I am also really interested to know what you think. Authors, publishers, Scribd users, leave me a comment, please.

One Comment

  • tim skinner October 21, 2014 at 2:26 am

    This is interesting. As an author published on Smashwords, I was sold by the idea that there are all of these other platforms where my book can be “purchased,” such as Scribd. It seems, however, that a Scribd subscriber can ‘purchase’ my book (good for Scribd and Smashwords) but unless that reader reads 30%, not good for me. Smashwords keeps the royalty (whatever that is) from Scribd.

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