Throttled: Trying to figure out how Scribd defines unlimited* reading

For the last two months, my access to certain audiobooks on Scribd has been throttled at three audiobooks. After that point, most titles show an “Available on [date] message. For me,that date is right after my monthly membership renews. While I’m still seeing both audiobook and ebook content offered, the titles are extremely limited.

I am not alone in having this problem. I’ve received a number of emails from people letting me know of problems accessing content on the service. Posts on the topic on sites like Reddit and Mobileread confirm the problems. Most people complain of being only allowed unlimited access to only three to five books per month and some have even had downloaded content removed from their devices.

Scribd’s history of issues providing content:

How many books to offer as part of its subscription has been an issue for Scribd for some time. Back in February 2018, I wrote:

Originally, Scribd started off as an unlimited subscription service.  Upon finding that some users were actually voracious readers, in February 2016, the service removed a large number of romance books (a hugely popular category) and instituted content limits of 3 ebooks and 1 audiobook for the rest of its users. A few months later in March 2016, Scribd modified the limits again by introducing Selects, which made some books unlimited and others subject to the 3 ebook/1 audiobook limit. And finally, comics were removed the service’s catalog in January 2017.

Scribd’s current limits date back to the last change made in February 2018, where the service promised “to give you access to an unlimited* number of books and audiobooks each and every month!” Note the asterisk behind the word “unlimited”. That asterisk relates to a couple of clauses in the TOS that allows Scribd to throttle its users.

The first relevant clause is number 6 under restrictions:

You may not exceed usage limitations set by content providers (participating publisher or User);

The second relevant clause is in the same section:

Your subscription entitles you to access an unlimited number of books and audiobooks in the Scribd library during the subscription period. For a small percentage of Scribd users who consume an unusual volume of materials, not every book or audiobook in the library will be immediately available. Scribd reserves and shall have the right in its sole discretion to add, modify, withdraw or delay at any time any particular Scribd Commercial Content from access by you for any reason including, without limitation, based on the costs generated to Scribd by such content or the nature of your use of the Scribd.com website. Scribd makes no guarantee as to the availability of specific titles or the timing of their availability. [Emphasis added]

The terms “publisher limits” and “unusual volume of materials” does not seem to be defined anywhere in either its terms and condition or its help pages.

When unlimited means something else:

One of the biggest issues for users seems to be trying to understand what “unlimited” with an asterisk really means.

Scribd’s terms make it it crystal clear that they can limit a user’s access and even remove downloaded content for a device. What’s not transparent is how those limits actually work in practice, especially as users report widely different circumstances regarding how much content they can access before hitting limits. In a comment on a Mobileread thread on the topic, one user wrote:

I’ve given up trying to figure out how many books I get to hear before I end up getting throttled each month. Some months I get two books, sometimes three.

Read any online discussion on the subject and you will see a variety of limits users have encountered, as well as a number of reason for the limits, most suggesting the cause is either publisher limits, location or price. Which titles are read also seems to be a factor, with some suggesting there’s a secret list of titles that you can’t read too many books from. A number of users have said that they can read three audiobooks and one ebook before they are throttled.That’s ironic, as it sounds pretty similar to Scribd’s old three book/one audiobook system, only in reverse.

The biggest beef for users? Nobody knows for sure what the rules are. At least with Scribd’s previous rules, it was (somewhat) clearer what the limits were. Under the current system, there’s not a lot of transparency and that tends to be annoying for users of the service.

The question of value:

For many, this may make it difficult to truly assess the value of the service they are paying for. I don’t think anyone really expects truly an unlimited service for $8.99 a month (the same scenario has played out with Playster, the other “unlimited” subscription service). But depending on what you read and how much you read, the value of a Scribd subscription shakes out differently for different people and how many books are included monthly is a big part of determining that. With each of the changes Scribd makes limiting the content offered (such as removing romance books) triggers an exodus of people claiming they will leave the service. It seems that currently, many of the those who the most frustrated with being throttled are avid listeners to audiobooks.

For me personally, I still find value in the service. Since I boycott books priced over $9.99, even by reading one higher-priced book a month, the service saves me money.  I’d like to see more bestsellers as ebooks (lately audiobooks seem to be the predominant format), but I still find content that is of value to me.

However, if Scribd was my only (or even my main) source of content, I don’t know that I would be as satisfied. Some people might find themselves better served by a subscription to Kindle Unlimited (which includes both ebooks and audiobooks) or by investing in a paid, out-of-area fee card to a public library that loans digital materials (I talk about fee cards in this post).

The bottom line is that it is just too difficult for figure out exactly how much content Scribd is offering with its subscription service. It would just be nice to know what the rules are so we could plan our reading accordingly.

What do you think? Current subscribers, have you been throttled by Scribd? Former subscribers, why did you leave?

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Filmstruck reborn as the Criterion Channel

Recently, FilmStruck, the streaming service geared towards cinephiles that specialized in arthouse and classic films, announced that they will be shutting down as of  November 29, 2018. The service was one of the few places that you could stream a collection of films and content from the acclaimed Criterion Collection of films.

If you were a fan of the service, there’s good news! The Filmstruck channel is being reborn as the Criterion Channel. The freestanding service will launch in February 2019.

According to Criterion’s press release,

The Criterion Channel will be picking up where the old service left off, programming director spotlights and actor retrospectives featuring major Hollywood and international classics and hard-to-find discoveries from around the world, complete with special features like commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and original documentaries. We will continue with our guest programmer series, Adventures in Moviegoing. Our regular series like Art-House America, Split Screen, and Meet the Filmmakers, and our Ten Minutes or Less section will all live on, along with Tuesday’s Short + Feature and the Friday Night Double Feature, and of course our monthly fifteen-minute film school, Observations on Film Art.

Because the channel is starting from scratch, they are looking for supportive fans willing to become Charter Subscribers who are willing to sign up now. Benefits include:

  • A 30-day free trial.
  • A reduced subscription fee for as long as you keep your subscription active. The regular fee will be $10.99 a month or $100 a year, but as a Charter Subscriber you’ll pay $9.99 a month or $89.99 a year.
  • Concierge customer service from the Criterion Collection, including a customer ID and a special e-mail address.
  • A holiday gift-certificate present, for use on the Criterion Collection website.
  • A Charter Subscriber membership card.
  • The satisfaction of knowing you’re keeping the best of film alive and available.

You can sign up here to become a Charter Subscriber.

The fact that this channel will be available is a testament to Filmstruck’s fans, who signed petitions and wrote letters to emphasize the need for this kind of high-quality content.

Freetime Unlimited adds kid-friendly audiobooks

Amazon is releasing a new update for its Freetime Unlimited service that adds over a thousand kid-friendly audiobooks to its collection of apps, games and videos for children.. Available books will include classics like Peter Pan, Rip Van Winkle, Beauty and the Beast and more. The books will be delivered via a software update. Freetime Unlimited works on  Amazon tablets and iOS and Android devices.

According to Amazon:

Families can also use their FreeTime Unlimited subscription to access FreeTime Unlimited on Alexa, an all-new Alexa experience for kids and parents with over 1,000 Audible kids’ books; kid-friendly, ad-free radio stations and playlists; character alarms; and premium Alexa skills from Disney, Nickelodeon, National Geographic, and more. FreeTime Unlimited on Alexa is available on compatible Echo devices, including Echo Dot Kids Edition, Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus.

Freetime Unlimited is a service for children from ages 3 to 12. Parents can customize their child’s experience, set time limits and even set bedtime for the device.

Pricing begins at $2.99 per month for Prime members for a single child($4.99 for non-members). Family plans for up to four children are available and a 1-year pre-paid Family plan for Prime members is only $83 (non-members, $119). You can start a one month free trial here.

Amazon recently added Spanish language content to the service and Spanish audiobooks are planned.

Finally! Third-party covers for the New Kindle Paperwhite are starting to appear

Last week, Amazon began shipping the new version of the Kindle Paperwhite (the 10th Generation). If you are like me and don’t like the proprietary Amazon device covers, I have news. Some third-party covers are beginning to appear on Amazon. Quite a few covers have pooped up recently, Here’s a sampling:

Clamshell Cases:

Fintie Slimshell Case for All-new Kindle Paperwhite (10th Generation, 2018 Release) – Premium Lightweight PU Leather Cover – $9.99 to $17.99 – Available in Black, Denim Charcoal, Rose Gold, Galaxy, Jungle Night and Love Tree.

OMOTON Kindle Paperwhite Case (10th Generation-2018), Smart Shell Cover with Auto Sleep Wake Feature for Kindle Paperwhite 10th Gen 2018 – $11.99 to $13.99. Available in Black, Blue,  Purple, Brown,  and Love Tree print.  This case is PU ( artificial) leather.

Infiland Kindle Paperwhite 2018 Case, Lightweight Shell Case Cover Compatible with All-new Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 10th Generation 6″ 2018 – $7.95 to $8.95 – Available in Black, Gray, Mint Green, Navy,  Orange, Purple, and Royal Blue. Synthetic leather.

ACcase Kindle Paperwhite Case 2018, ACdream The Thinnest and Lightest Leather Smart Cover Case for 2018 Kindle Paperwhite – $12.99 – Available in Black, Purple, Navy Blue, Red, Purple Glitter, Rose Gold, Rose Gold Glitter and Sky Blue  This case is PU (artificial) leather, and, according to the description only fits 2018 Kindle Paperwhite, 10th Generation.

Coopts Case for Kindle Paperwhite (10th Generation, 2018 Releases) – Ultra Slim Lightweight PU Leather Shell Cover with Auto Wake/Sleep Compatible Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2018 Tablet – $14.99 – Available in a variety of colors and patterns. Synthetic leather.

Other cases (folio, cut outs, elastic, etc.):

Fintie Folio Case for All-New Kindle Paperwhite (10th Generation, 2018 Release) – Book Style Premium Fabric Shockproof Cover – $15.99 – Available in Denim Charcoal (fabric) and Vintage Antique Bronze (synthetic leather).

ACcase Kindle Paperwhite Case 2018, ACdream Folio Smart Cover Leather Case – $9.99 to $12.99 – Available in Black, Hot Pink, Purple, Purple Glitter, Rose Gold Glitter and Sky Blue. This case is PU (artificial) leather, and, according to the description, fits various models of Paperwhites.

Ropada Case Kindle Paperwhite 2018 Released Kindle 10th Generation E-Reader 6” PU Leather Kindle Paperwhite Covers – $17.99  Available in Black, Blue and several other patterned designs. This case has elastic bands to hold ereader in place, so it will also fit other Kindle versions.

Flip covers:

Infiland Kindle Paperwhite 2018 Case, Multiple Angle Stand Case Cover Compatible with All-new Kindle Paperwhite 10th Generation 6″ 2018 Release – $9.95 – Available in Black, Gray, Mint Green, Navy,  Purple, and Royal Blue. Synthetic leather.

MoKo Case Fits Kindle Paperwhite (10th Generation, 2018 Releases), Premium Vertical Flip Cover with Auto Wake/Sleep Compatible for Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2018 Tablet – $11.99 to $17.99 – Available in Black, Coffee, Indigo 1, Indigo 2,  Purple, Red, Rose Gold,  and Lucky Tree print.  This case is PU (artificial) leather.

TiMOVO Case for All-new Kindle Paperwhite (10th Generation, 2018 Release) – Slim Fit Vertical Multi-Viewing Flip Stand Cover with Auto Sleep / Wake for Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2018 – $16.99 – Various colors, depending on availability. This case is PU (artificial) leather.

A couple of caveats:

Note that Amazon Prime shipping may not be available for all of these covers. Many covers start off shipping from their manufacturer and later become available directly through Amazon.

The reviews for some of these covers are less than stellar. Due to Amazon’s confusing naming convention for their Kindles, it is unclear whether the poor fit reviews are due to buyer error or poor product design as there aren’t enough reviews for a true consensus. I recommend using caution when buying until there are more reviews.

Harlequin changing ebook providers (and there’s more bad news)

Harlequin has announces that they are changing ebook fulfillment providers in mid-November. If you’ve purchased books directly from Harlequin Books in the past, you may need to act quickly in order to download your titles, especially if you have an older device or one that is not web enabled.It seems after the provider changeover, old titles will no longer be able to be side.

According to Harlequin’s help page:

  • Currently, you can continue to download your ebooks to the OverDrive app on your device or access them through the Read Now option as usual.

  • Once the new ereading experience launches, you will be able to read your ebooks through your Mac or PC web browser, iPhone, iPad, Android OS smartphones and tablets, Nook HD+, as well as the Kindle Fire HD line of tablets. The free reading app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play Stores respectively.

      *Requires Android 4.0.3 and above. *iOS 8.0 and above are only iOS versions supported.

  • It important to note that while the new ebook reading experience does support offline reading through the web browser and app, you will not be able to download files and transfer them to older devices that are not web enabled. If you would like to keep copies of the files for this use, please download them prior to November 12th, 2018.

  • When the new ereading experience launches, you’ll be notified and provided with instructions on how to access your ebooks in the new app.

Past purchases from the the Harlequin store are protect with Digital Rights Management from Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). These past purchases must be downloaded into the ADE software in order to be side-loaded into an e-ink e-reader. New purchases

This ONLY affects books purchased directly from Harlequin Books. Titles purchased through retailers like Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, etc. are not affected.

There are several interesting discussions on the topic on the MobileRead site that you can find here (starting at post #1662) and an entire thread dedicated to discussing the topic here. There is a lot of speculation about whether Harlequin is doing this as a cost-cutting measure and how this will play out as publishers are attempting to establish direct to consumer sales.

Harlequin stopped providing audiobooks direct to its customers in October 2018.

Halrlequin’s actions reinforce the concept that when you buy digital content, you do not own it. You are merely purchasing a license to use the content. The publisher can take the content away or alter your ability to access it. It also really emphasizes the down side of buying  books protected by DRM.

Remember, you have until November 12, 2018 to download any purchased books!

Harlequin Announcements

Audible 90 Day Free Trial for Prime Members (with a poll)

If you are a Amazon Prime Member, Amazon is offering a 90 day free trial for its Audible audiobook service. Normally, it is a 30 day trial period.

Audible offers 1 audiobook and 2 Audible Originals each month for $15, and you can also find complimentary access to other audio shows and materials.

I listen to audiobooks from the library via Overdrive and also listen to audiobooks as part of of my monthly Scribd subscription, I do miss the selection offered by Audible though (especially The Great Courses content) and have been considering re-upping my subscription.

What do you think about the service:

Please leave any thoughts in the comments!

Kobo introduces the Forma e-reader

Kobo is releasing a new premium e-reader and I have one (excited) word to say: BUTTONS!!!!

The Kobo Forma, (Kobo’s answer to the Kindle Oasis) takes blends features of the Kobo Aura One with some of the popular features from Amazon’s high-end e-reader.

Features:

  • The new Kobo Forma features an eight inch display, which is larger than both the Aura One (7.8 inches) and the Kindle Oasis (7 inches).
  • Like the Aura One, the Forma is IPX8  rated and is immersible up to 60 minutes in 2 meters of fresh water.
  • At 197 grams, the Kobo Forma is lighter than both the Kobo Aura One and the Kindle Oasis.
  • The Kobo Forma and the Aura One both feature Kobo’s ComfortLight PRO lighting which reduces blue-light exposure for the best nighttime reading. The Kindle Oasis, on the other hand, has an adjustable light sensor, but does not reduce blue light.
  • Like the rest of Kobo’s e-reader line up, the Kobo Forma features integration with Rakuten’s Overdrive system for libraries. (**Dependent on library participation: Overdrive is available through public libraries in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.)

What’s new and exciting:

There are a couple of important features that differentiate the Kobo Forma from other devices in the Kobo lineup. The Forma has added physical page turn buttons. The back of the Forma is flat and, instead, the buttons are placed on an angled section that is slightly thicker than the rest of the device.

The new hardware also features a gyro so the device can be used either right or left handed as well as in landscape and portrait modes.

Sleep cover:

There is an interesting Kobo sleep cover for the Forma. The design is Similar to the original Origami covers Amazon offered for some of their e-readers and Fire tablets. The Forma sleep cover is priced at $49.99.

Storage, Price and Availability:

The Kobo Forma has 8 GB of storage. The 32 Gb version of the device will only initially be availabe in Japan, with other countries to follow at a later, unspecified date. Price for the Forma is $279.99, which is $50 more than the Aura One’s $229.99 price tag.

The Kobo Forma is available for pre-order now and will be released on October 23, 2018. You can find the complete specs here.

My thoughts:

Mostly, I use my Kobo Aura One for library books (some books are only available in an epub format and can’t be borrowed on the Kindle). I also buy books on sale through the Google Play store which require Adobe Digital editions to download. Since I bought my Oasis, trying to read on the Kobo Aura One has been harder for me because I really, really miss the page turn buttons. Personally, I am going to be watching the reviews on this one carefully. I am thinking that it may be a good candidate for a backup eInk reader.

What do you think?