Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Oyster vs. Scribd: First Impressions

I miss going to the library.

I don't miss the people, public-ness, and pressures that are all involved with going to the library.

Enter the book subscription services.

They're most often referred to as "Netflix for books," and that's a fair description.  Right now there are two main players: Oyster Books and Scribd.

I first heard about this sort of service last fall when Oyster was in beta testing.  I got all excited and then saw that Oyster was coming out on iProducts ONLY.  At that point, I didn't own an i-anything, became grumpily despondent about the whole idea, and then vowed to forget about it--and I did.

Yesterday, however, I saw an ad for Oyster . . . AS I WAS BROWSING THE WEB ON MY iPAD AIR THAT I GOT FOR CHRISTMAS.  I immediately went to the site and snooped.  I then started looking for reviews, and in doing so discovered there was a competitor--Scribd.  I went ahead and signed up for the free month-long trial for Oyster yesterday and then today decided to do the same for Scribd so that I could compare the two before deciding which one (if either) was worth a monthly subscription.

I figured, why not share my thoughts with the world?

First, a few basics.

As I mentioned above, Oyster ONLY works with Apple products and they don't seem too concerned about branching out into Android and Windows territory any time soon.  Oyster charges you $9.95 a month for unlimited access to their entire catalog.

Scribd (which, BTW, is not a brand new company) has love for both Apple and Android and charges $8.95 a month.

If you'd like more of "just the facts m'am" kind of info, here are the sites:



Now, since I just started these within the last 24 hours, I can't give a full, in depth review and comparison.  I can, however, give you my initial impressions.

App Appearance:

While both apps have a definite Netflix feel to them, Oyster is just prettier.  The book covers are large and the overall design itself has that cool, modern, simple feel that Apple-based items are famous for (and that I often make fun of in public but covet in private).  Scribd is rather plain and looks almost unfinished.  Looks aren't everything, but when you're offering two very similar services, they can make a big difference.

App Usability:

I definitely want to use both of these apps more before declaring a winner, but as of right now, Oyster is in the lead, primarily because Scribd's summaries are driving me up the fucking wall. In both apps, when you click on a book title you see the summary (it's a pop up box in Scribd and a new page in Oyster), but the difference is that with Oyster YOU ACTUALLY GET TO SEE THE WHOLE DAMN SUMMARY. I cannot tell you how many summaries I tried to read on Scribd and they just end in the middle of a word with an ellipsis. As far as I can tell (and believe me, I have looked) the only way to get to read the full summary is to go to the Scribd website--you CANNOT see it on the app.  Even if you click on the book to read it, you STILL don't get the summary.  It's ridiculously inconvenient and annoying.

And speaking of annoying, somebody needs to hire a proofreader for those Scribd summaries STAT.  I don't recall any misspellings or typos in Oyster summaries but I am continually stumbling across them on Scribd and not just for books published via Smashwords--we're talking books published by actual publishing houses.  I freely admit such errors are a pet peeve of mine, but shit like that just seems really unprofessional.


Oyster really put some thought in here as they offer five different font/background reading options AND adjustable brightness.  Scribd does give you three background color and two font options, but if you want to mess with brightness, you're going to have to do it through your device and not the app.

Oyster also allows you to highlight and make notes (which is nice for someone like me who is used to her Kindle allowing such things), but neither app has a bookmark function.  The app will keep your place but you can't mark other pages you want to easily return to later.  I suspect you MIGHT be able to do something like that using Oyster's highlight and note functions, but I haven't gotten that far yet.

One Scribd feature I do prefer is the ability to flick pages side to side, just like on a Kindle.  Oyster has you scroll through pages vertically, which is weird to me.  I get that I'm using technology instead of an actual book, but I still like to mimic the book experience as closely as possible.  It's comforting and familiar, you know?

Book Collection:

Again, it's a little too early to really do this section justice, but on first glance, Scribd had more books that caught my interest.  Now, neither one of these services has reallyreallynew books or supercurrent bestsellers, and I suspect Oyster has more books than it appears to.  With Oyster, the same books keep popping up on the display, even when you are browsing genres.  To really get into its collection I'll have to use the search option.

Scribd has a much more open-feeling collection.  I was surprised to see several highly regarded books on writing available (such as Robert McKee's Story), but then considering the company's current deal with Smashwords and Smashwords writers, it shouldn't be that surprising.

Overall I did see a fair amount of overlap in the collections.  Harper Collins is the only BIG publishing house that has had the sense to embrace this sort of venture and both services offer their titles but, again, no super recent ones.  If you love nothing more than to read about the newest, hottest books and then go out and get them, this is SO not the type of service for you.  This is also not the service for you if you've got a super specific list of books you want to read.  I

The current selections remind me a lot of Netflix's streaming offerings in its early days.  You could find older blockbusters, some recent-ish standard flicks, some classics, some documentaries, and then a lot of weird shit you never knew existed.  Change the movie terms into book terms and that pretty much sums these catalogs up.  But look at what Netflix streaming has turned into; I would love to see at least one of these services evolve in a similar fashion.  (Though we'll have to see if anyone has the business plan and expertise to stay in the game that long.)

For someone like me, who likes just to wander around a library or half-price books, picking up random titles, and finding interesting stuff I've never heard of, this type of service could be a gold mine of convenience and discovery.

Time will tell.


That's it for now, but feel free to ask any questions you'd like me to look into during my free trials.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there! Can I tell you freakin' awesome and helpful this post was? I'm Carrie (head of community @Scribd). We believe in community-driven product development, and I loved your criticisms (and appreciation too, that's always nice :-)). I'm in charge of sending feedback and suggestions to our product team, and you'd better believe this is all getting sent over there.

    One thing to add: we're also available on Kindle Fire.

    If I can ever help with anything at all or get you some more reading time so you can watch our evolution, please reach out. I'm carrie(at)scribd(dot)com.