I love e-books. I’ve been a fan for as long as there have been e-books (dating back to the days of the PalmPilot). And today I giddily hop back and forth between smartphone and tablet, reading wherever and whenever it’s most convenient. In your face, paper!
What’s really great is the way e-book prices have been trending downward in recent months. Where once you were all but assured of paying $13-15 for a new release or bestseller, you can now find many of them in the $4-9 range.
Gillian Flynn’s riveting Gone Girl, for example, is $8.99 at Amazon. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars: $7.99. And Lone Survivor, the movie version of which is currently in theaters, runs $3.99.
It’s ironic, then, that e-book subscription services are just now starting to make a splash, offering Netflix- or Audible-style models for voracious readers hoping to feed their habit for less. The irony? In their current iterations, these services aren’t always a better deal. In some cases they’re worse.
Let’s start with Oyster and Scribd, both of which offer unlimited e-book borrowing for $9.95 and $8.99 per month, respectively. Those are pretty compelling options if you read, say, a book a week, and not too bad if you read just two per month.
But note the key word there: borrowing. As with e-books you might check out of the library, you don’t get to keep what you read. That may be a deal-breaker for some, but to my thinking there’s little reason to keep an e-book after you’re done with it. It’s not like you can display it on a shelf. And if there’s something you want to re-read, you can just borrow it again (provided you’re still a subscriber, natch).
So, what’s the difference between the two? Scribd offers apps for both Android and iOS, while Oyster is currently limited to iOS. Scribd has partnered with Smashwords to offer several hundred thousand indie books as part of its library, while Oyster recently picked up publisher Perseus to expand its higher-profile offerings.
Both services, however, lack the catalogs of most of the major publishers, meaning you won’t get anywhere near an Amazon-style selection. You’ll see few recent releases and few bestsellers.
Then there’s Entitle Books, which was formerly known as eReatah until a recent (and much-needed) name change. Your subscription plan entitles (see what I did there?) you to two, three, or four books per month, with rates of $9.99, $14.99, and $19.99, respectively.
So, basically, five bucks per book. But beware some rather sketchy promo math on Entitle’s home page, which advertises such high-profile books as Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio (“retail price: $14.57″) and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep (“retail price: $14.99″). But the Kindle editions of those titles sell for $6.99 and $7.99. Entitle is still the better deal, but only by a few dollars.
On the plus side, Entitle supports all four major platforms: Android, iOS, Kobo, and Nook.
Of course, as with the other services, the real issue is selection. Entitle currently offers 100,000-plus books from Simon & Schuster, a publisher not yet signed with either Oyster or Scribd. But the math of the matter remains the same: If there’s a particular book you want, odds are Entitle won’t have it. Same goes for Oyster and Scribd.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy plenty of good reading from any of these services. But you can’t necessarily enjoy it on your platform of choice, and you probably won’t get the books you want.
Consequently, I’m adopting a wait-and-see approach. I would love to support an e-book subscription service that offered titles from all (or at least most) of the major publishers. Until then, I’m keeping my money.
That said, all three services offer free trials, so you’ve got nothing to lose by checking out their card catalogs. After you do, hit the comments and share your thoughts on e-book subscriptions. Like? No like?