Scribd: Shut Up and Take My Money
Dear Author had an excellent Scribd offer a few months back, giving us a three-month trial instead of one month. I signed up, happy to have access to free books for three months. At least, that was the idea. I planned to read my fill for three months and cancel at the end of April.
Of course, I didn’t take advantage of those three months. In classic Suzanne style, I signed in once, screwed around for maybe ten minutes, and promptly forgot about everything for maybe eight weeks. Have I done this with other website trials? Yup. You may be interested to find out that the majority of people are not responsible trial users. They sign in once, or maybe a few times in the first few days, and then they abandon ship. Grabbing someone’s interest from the beginning is key to converting trials to paying customers. You don’t have much time and they have every reason in the world to leave you, unless you actively give them reasons to stay.
During the third month, seeing my trial was nearly up, I signed in again. I didn’t do it to decide whether I should purchase at the end of my trial (I wasn’t going to) but instead to understand the website and all it does and how it does it, AKA Suzanne’s version of fun. Some people play football or they go to the symphony or they snort crack cocaine; I have this (and reading and Korean television, which is similar to crack cocaine but with beautiful people who don’t kiss a lot). I look at services with monthly subscriptions and I analyze how those services implement their applications and I consider their usage of trials to convert customers, because that is what I do in real life, for fun, but also because someone pays me money. And I judge these services and their trials and their applications and their websites, because judging makes for good times and better products. (Scribd, your support center’s design could use an upgrade. Just saying.)
So as I immersed myself in their design, their wording, and their application’s functionality, I spent a good while skimming through all the nonfiction books I ever wanted to read and looking up literature classics I always intended to read, dutifully adding them to my library now that I had no-holds-barred access. I built an impressive list of books I will probably not bother reading, ever, but by god, they’re in a library with my name on it. I have every intention of scrolling past their cover every so often, and will absorb almost as much value from them as I would by actually reading them. Really. No one’s gonna know. They are beautiful covers.
Nothing blew me away. This is because I hadn’t gone to the Romance section yet, even though romance consistently accounts for about 85% of my reading each year. I suppose I am used to sites not having a great selection of romance, so I didn’t bother. I didn’t want to be frustrated by a few token bestsellers, a tiny smattering of authors I actually like, and a whole lot of amateur hour novels I will never, ever waste my time reading. Thusly one sums up Amazon Prime’s offerings. Why would Scribd be any different?
But my friends, they are different. Scribd is where you want to go if you’re a romance reader. I finally clicked on the Romance section, searched for a few authors, and my mind pretty much stopped working. Time itself stopped working as I stared at the most superb backlist collection I’d ever seen.
I got out my faithful Books I Have Read spreadsheets from years past and looked up author after author after author, opening a tab in my browser for each author’s collection, seeing what each had. Once I had about twenty tabs open in one window, I stopped opening tabs and sorted through the current authors and added some of their books to my library and closed their tab when finished. And when I was done closing tabs, I opened about twenty more authors’ pages and started all over again. I did this for hours. I am not kidding. This is my idea of free time well spent. It made me so, so, so happy.
I don’t know if you understand what this means to me. I will try to explain.
They have 59 listings for Johanna Lindsey and 57 are available in full. Fifty. Seven. I could be immersed for two to three straight months in old school, bodice ripping, historically inaccurate, convenient plotting, glorious Johanna Lindsey. Reality does not exist in a Johanna Lindsey book; only happiness and busty chests and a touch of misogyny. It is beautiful. I have read all 57 books previously but that doesn’t matter. It is time to read them all again (except Silver Angel; yuck).
They have an excellent collection of Sarah Mayberry novels. I’ve long wanted to read everything she wrote but didn’t fancy paying $3.99 about forty times. They have 27 of her novels available. That alone sold me on Scribd. Why did I not check the romance section two months ago? I am an idiot. Of course, rather than read a new-to-me Mayberry, I just started rereading my favorite of hers. That’s all I did last Friday night after work: reread Her Best Worst Mistake.
I am currently finishing a Karen Hawkins series I started…um, maybe eight years ago without finishing. I think I got the first from the library? And then forgot the rest existed? Anyway, I’m on the third book in the series and it’s decent. Scribd is where you go to complete all the series you intended to complete but never did. Because they’re right there. So many of them.
I eventually drifted from romance to fantasy. I sucked in a heavy breath when I saw they had Garth Nix. When I saw they had Dan Simmons, I yelled out loud, “Dan Simmons!!” as one does when one has read enough Dan Simmons to understand one should read everything Dan Simmons wrote. I had a huge smile on my face as I saw all the Kristine Kathryn Rusch novels they offered in full. A lot. About 300. She can’t be human.
I clicked on Comics and stared in awe. If you read comics, especially Marvel, go to Scribd and click on Comics. You are going to get excited.
This is not your average reading subscription. It’s not a copout like Amazon Prime (which I had for two years and maybe twice used for books). It’s a subscription for actual readers. Too many reading subscriptions are run by corporations that haven’t made enough deals with enough publishers, because it’s a new concept and not one well implemented by many. Naw, Scribd didn’t have absolutely everyone on my list, but they had a damned lot of them. That might be because I am hopelessly addicted to Avon Historical Romance and they have a deal with HarperCollins, so their selection suits my taste. The books I actually want to read are there. Books released in the last year and even in the last month are available (sometimes).
Another highlight of Scribd is their mobile applications. I usually read on my iPad mini, the most wonderful e-reading device ever, but I spend a fair amount of time on my iPhone as well. Somehow it’s much less antisocial when you are around people to furtively read a book on your phone than to take out your iPad and give up all sense of manners. Seriously, there are shades of bad manners, and reading on your iPhone is less harsh than going all out with an iPad. I am an expert at this. You could be checking Facebook. It’s a totally acceptable way to spend a party.
It is also easier to walk down the sidewalk and read from a phone than it is to read from a tablet. Also, people will think you are less weird because they don’t know that you’re reading a novel while walking a few blocks to the bakery. They think you’re being an obnoxious modern person checking social media or SMS or Google Maps, and for some reason all of those are more comprehensible to bystanders than the semi-dangerous act of reading a book while walking down the street (I don’t read while crossing streets; I promise) or down a hall corridor. I do it all the time and have since grade school, when I used actual hard copy books to do it.
And so, because I am a highly mobile reader, I have tried a whole lot of reading apps in pursuit of the perfect mobile reading experience. I still haven’t found it. Scribd doesn’t have it either, but they are decent; at least as decent as the Kindle app, and that’s always been my favorite.
Scribd’s app navigation isn’t as good as Kindle’s. It’s convoluted and not the most intuitive. There are too many varied dimensions of navigation to understand all at once. It’s highly functional, yes, but you have to think about it at first. There is also no practical search function to search your own library, which should be a given. The search function searches all of Scribd’s books. Good luck finding the book you want in your library when you have hundreds saved. This is a serious design flaw and it needs to be corrected.
Still, once you’re reading, all’s well. There are enough fonts for everyone to be happy (six). I do wish you could highlight in more than one color, like you can on the Kindle app. That said, there are many good things about their app. As said, you can search the Scribd website offerings from the app and add new books to your library immediately, something Amazon doesn’t quite understand they should include. Then again, you’d have to purchase the Amazon books, whereas Scribd’s books just go straight into your library without paying a cent more, because you’re already paying a subscription fee. It’s a different use case and more vital for Scribd to have than Amazon. It just makes everything come together, though. It feels more useful than the Kindle app.
The multi-device syncing functionality is also better than the Kindle app. It’s more reliable and usually happens automatically, which is a relief, because I hate having to approve the syncing. I switch between my iPhone and iPad multiple times a day and it’s an absolute pain to deal with on the Kindle app. With Kindle, the app doesn’t always sense it needs syncing, or it’ll sync to the wrong place. Scribd got it right all times but once, when I spent maybe two minutes reading on my phone and then switched back. In comparison, Kindle doesn’t sense that a sync is needed about 40% of the time, so Scribd wins hands down.
I was more than pleased with the iOS applications and the website itself, though the main page makes it highly annoying to access the footer if you want it. You need to wait for them to auto-load more selections about five times before it gives up and lets you actually see the footer. Bad design. Their navigation is as convoluted as on their application; they need a much more straightforward and intuitive menu strategy for better user experience.
Also, biggest drawback: Because I sign in through Facebook, it automatically added a ton of my Facebook friends to my account and I guess me to theirs. My Social Feed shows all the things I’ve rated, added to my library, all the authors I’ve followed…and I couldn’t figure out a way to turn this off. I don’t want anyone knowing exactly what I’m reading. I’ll share it if I want them to know. This is not cool. I had to disconnect my profile from Facebook, meaning I now have to go through the torture of actually typing in an email and password while signing in rather than just clicking the Facebook button. The two should not be contingent on each other, or there should be an option not to share.
Still, though there are many different areas Scribd needs to develop further, I feel like a subscription with them means I will never be out of a TBR list, and that’s where you’ve legitimately hooked me. $8.99 a month is roughly the cost of one book, or two or three if you’re going for the cheaper self-published books. I totally read more than three books a month. A lot more. Now I have a resource that can effectively deliver whatever I’m craving.
I hope they keep improving their applications and their website, and that they expand their privacy options, but I’m still sold. Scribd converted me to a paying customer entirely through their expansive content offerings. Everything else they did right was the proverbial icing (note to self: must make homemade icing, no cake needed). With their comprehensive selection of books that I’d be reading whether I had a Scribd subscription or not, it was an easy choice to make.