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Who's Who in Ebook Subscription Services
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Posted On March 4, 2014


If you need a less expensive way to feed your e-reading habit than purchasing one title at a time at full price, you can opt to sign up for one of the ebook subscription services that have been gaining attention in the marketplace. These services offer a selection of ebooks at a set price that won’t put too big a dent in your wallet, and most have thousands of titles from which to choose.

Here’s the scoop on five popular ebook subscription services, including a comparison chart for quick reference.

Emily Books: A Book Club for the Digital Age

Emily Books subscribers download one ebook per month from the website; if they use the accompanying app, they get one ebook per month plus bonus content. Each ebook is chosen by Emily Books staff members, so subscribers may read titles they might not have chosen themselves. 

History: Ruth Curry and Emily Gould, who met while working in publishing, founded Emily Books in October 2011 because they wanted to run their own ebookstore where staff members, not algorithms, recommended titles to customers.

Ebook Collection: Ebooks include transgressive memoirs and fiction. “The books tend to be memoir or near-memoir, or at least to feature vivid and unusual voices and first-person narration. We aim to introduce readers to unjustly overlooked books that were too strange or awesome to garner a lot of mainstream attention,” according to the Emily Books Goodreads group.

How It Works: Emily Books subscribers pay $159.99 all at once or $13.99 per month to receive one ebook each month for 1 year (as EPUB files or Kindle-compatible files). Subscribers can cancel any time and get a refund for the undelivered portion of their subscription. All of Emily Books’ ebooks are free of DRM (digital rights management).

New Features: iOS device users can download the Emily Books app for free and then sign up for a $9.99/month or $99.99/year subscription to get issues of the Emily Books Reader. This compilation of the full text of each month’s ebook pick comes with bonus content such as author Q&As, essays, playlists, and artwork. Each individual issue costs $12.99.

What’s Next: Emily Books does not reveal its monthly picks ahead of time, since it would “ruin the mystique,” according to the FAQ.

Entitle: Specialized Recommendations

Entitle focuses on providing value for each customer with its recommendation engine based on an advanced matching algorithm and the If These Books Had a Baby tool, which allows users to choose two ebooks they enjoyed and put them together to discover a new title similar to each “parent” ebook. It is also the only subscription service that lets customers keep the ebooks they purchase each month. (Ebooks are permanently stored in their Entitle app even if customers cancel their subscription.)

History: Entitle launched in beta as eReatah, but feedback from the beta testing period prompted a name change. Entitle officially launched in December 2013.

Ebook Collection: Entitle has the most best-sellers and new releases (many titles on the day they are released) of any subscription service, as well as curated subject sections.

How It Works: There are three monthly subscription tiers: two ebooks for $9.99, three ebooks for $14.99, or four ebooks for $19.99. Customers can change their plans at any time, and subscriptions can be canceled mid-month, though Entitle does not provide refunds. However, customers can use their download credits until their account is canceled at the end of the billing period.

New Features: Customers can now sample any ebook before purchasing it.

What’s Next: Entitle plans to release an update to its app for iOS and Android devices, and it will continue to work toward signing all of the Big Five publishers to the service. It also intends to expand outside the U.S.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: For Amazon Lovers

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is an exclusive service for Amazon Prime subscribers who own any generation of Kindle device.

History: Amazon launched the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in November 2011 with about 5,000 titles.

Ebook Collection: There are more than 100 current and former New York Times best-sellers available, as well as the entire Harry Potter series.  

How It Works: Subscribers can borrow one ebook per month for free without a due date. Once they return an ebook, they can choose another, and any bookmarks, highlights, or notes are saved in case they borrow the ebook again or purchase it. Each user can borrow ebooks from any Kindle device registered to that Amazon account. The $79 annual fee for Amazon Prime also includes free 2-day shipping and access to Prime Instant Video.

New Features: Amazon announced that its selection of titles grew from 250,000 ebooks to more than 475,000 ebooks in the past year. Now the website shows 500,000-plus available for lending, though Amazon notes that available titles may change each month.

What’s Next: As the number of available titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Prime Instant Video continue to climb, Amazon may increase the price of Prime membership.

Oyster: For Apple Lovers  

With Oyster, users can read their ebooks both online and off (the last 10 ebooks opened can be read offline), and they can share what they’re reading and recommending with their friends. A main goal of the service is to enable readers to come together over ebooks in new ways. Oyster’s slogan is, “Live a well-read life, anywhere you go.”

History: Oyster launched as an invitation-only service for iPhone users in September 2013. That October, it launched an iPad-compatible version, and its subscriber base doubled.

Ebook Collection: Users can find best-sellers, award-winners, and popular recent releases separated by genre collections. Curated collections, called Spotlights, highlight themes that include Literary Debuts and Political Satire.

How It Works: iPad, iPhone, and other iOS 7 device users download the app and pay $9.95 per month for unlimited access to all titles with no commitment; they can cancel any time.  

New Features: Oyster introduced a children’s genre section that includes ebooks from Disney Publishing Worldwide. It also added an Explore tab to the app so users can browse ebooks by genre, plus it allows users to follow Facebook friends when signing in for the first time.

What’s Next: Oyster is working to expand its market outside the U.S.

Scribd: Anywhere, Anytime Reading

Scribd is centered on ebook discovery. Subscribers can get recommendations and share their reading activities with friends in their personalized libraries. Another key feature is Scribd’s promise of reading anywhere: on iOS, Android, and web browser-based devices, in more than 100 countries.  

History: Scribd’s subscription service launched in October 2013, though the company itself is 6 years old. Since then, more than 80 million users joined the service. It grows at a rate of 60% each month.

Ebook Collection: Users can search for ebooks by most popular or most recent filters, as well as browse 20 subcategories. The collection includes New York Times best-sellers, classics, and content uploaded by its users.

How It Works: With Scribd, subscribers can read an unlimited number of ebooks for $8.99 per month, and their subscriptions automatically renew. They can sample titles before downloading them and bookmark their favorites to find later.

New Features: Scribd introduced a series of reading-experience improvements such as the addition of night mode, new fonts and font-size controls, full-text searching within ebooks, and author and publisher webpages. Also, Kindle Fire users can now access Scribd.

What’s Next: Scribd is in talks to sign up more book, comics, and magazine publishers with the service. It is also working on the ability to read internationally.

Features at a Glance

Subscription Service

Estimated Number of Titles

Participating Big Five Publishers

Price

Mobile Apps

Best Choice For

Emily Books

30

None

$13.99 per month

iOS

Readers who want to participate in a book club with others

Entitle

125,000-plus

HarperCollins Publishers, Simon & Schuster

Starting at $9.99 per month

iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, NOOK, Kobo

Readers who want to keep the ebooks they purchase and don’t read more than four ebooks per month

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

500,000-plus

HarperCollins Publishers

$79 per year

None (Kindle devices only)

Readers who use Amazon for their online shopping and who read on Kindle devices  

Oyster

100,000-plus

HarperCollins Publishers

$9.95 per month

iOS

Readers who enjoy social reading on Apple devices

Scribd

300,000-plus

HarperCollins Publishers

$8.99 per month

iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, NOOK

Readers who binge on anything from romance novels to cookbooks


Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and managing editor of Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli
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