If you are a subscriber to the Scribd service, you’ve probably gotten an email from the company letting you know that it is changing its membership terms. You can read the blog announcement here on their blog, There are some good articles on the service changes here, here and here.
The bottom line is that new terms severely limit the amount of content that readers can access through the service in a month.
The new membership will allow for reading three books and one audiobook. These monthly reads will be given as credits. Unused credits will roll over to the following month. The membership will also include Scribd Selects, “a rotating collection of books and audiobooks handpicked by our editors, to which you will have unlimited access.” Finally, membership includes “substantial previews of any book or audiobook” and unlimited access to the sheet music and documents available on the service.
As a Scribd subscriber, I am not surprised. As Nate Hoffelder points out in his post on The Digital Reader, I, too, am surprised that it took so long. While I agree that the service is probably unsustainable as-is, these are pretty radical changes.
When Scribd first started, it was an unlimited book and audiobook service. In June of last year, Scribd cut most of the romance and erotica titles from the catalog. Then, last August, Scribd limited audiobook access to one per month, given as a credit. Additional audiobook credits could be purchased for $8.95. Ever since the audiobook change, Scribd has been pushing more and more audiobook versions to its members on its Friday blogposts.
Scribd insists that most of its members only read 3 books or less per month and that this latest change will only affect about 3% of its members. If I look at my own use of the service, I usually read about 2 or 3 books a month there. (I also use Kindle Unlimited.) Since the books I read on Scribd are traditionally published, even being limited to only 3 titles, I still save money. So as a reader, that’s not the part that concerns me the most about this upcoming change.
As a subscriber, I do have issues with the bait and switch aspect of this. Twice within the past year, Scribd has made dramatic changes in its terms of service, changes made without input from the members who use the service. And I’m sorry, but promoting “substantial previews of any book or audiobook” as a membership feature comes across as disingenuous. Previews are ubiquitous enough not to be considered a feature. Those kinds of actions breed mistrust and make me wonder, what will they change next?
The real deal-breaker for me may very well be the rotating collection. I have pretty eclectic tastes and generally do not like curated collections. I also like to read a book when I want it, not necessarily when it is available. Part of the reason for paying for a service like Scribd instead of using the public library is to avoid the waitlists and checkout time restrictions. A rotating collection adds the possibility of another layer of restriction to my reading, one that I was trying to avoid.
Rotating titles mean the service also has much less value for me as a barometer in choosing and purchasing books. Since the resurrection of agency pricing, like many people, I watch the sales more carefully than I did in the past. Sometimes, my decision whether to purchase a book that on sale is influenced by whether or not the book is in Scribd’s catalog. If it is available there, I might pass on a title that I am not sure I’ll like or one that I know I won’t be reading right away. I also read a lot of sci-fi and mystery series, many of which are long and which I do not necessarily want to own. Checking prices and finding out if the series titles are available in Scribd has, up to this point, been a big factor for me in deciding to start a series. A rotating collection makes it impossible to know whether any title is likely be in the collection in the near future.
While Scribd is emphasizing that they are not raising prices, it is very clear that the perception of value for the service has definitely changed. It will be interesting to see what this does to the subscriber numbers.What started out as an all-you-can-eat buffet has been pared down to a value meal. My public library is looking better and better all the time.
Are you a Scribd subscriber? How do you feel about the new membership terms? As a new subscriber, would you be willing to sign up under the new terms?