Kobo begins monthly audiobook subscription program

Kobo is launching their own monthly audiobook subscription service. The service is $9.99 per month in the US and the monthly cost varies by country.

Key elements of the program are:

The program offers a 30 day free trial. Your first audiobook is free.and yours to keep, even if you cancel.

Each month you get a credit for $9.99 monthly credit. One credit equals one audiobook. Credits are added to your account once a month on your recurring billing date.

For Super Points rewards program members, you can earn Kobo Super Points with each purchase.

Books can be listened to on or off line. There are, however, a couple of limitations. You can listen to audiobooks on the Android app (system 4.4 and above) and the iOS app (9.0 or higher). You cannot listen on the following devices:

  • on kobo.com
  • in Kobo Desktop
  • in the Kobo App for Windows or BlackBerry
  • on Kobo eReaders
  • on Kobo Arc 7, 7HD or 10HD tablets

If you use the Kobo app for iOS, there is an additional complication: You can’t purchase anything through the Kobo app for IOS; you can only play items you have purchased. According to the FAQ:

Due to an agreement between Kobo and Apple, the Kobo App for iOS doesn’t include our store. If you use an iOS smartphone or tablet, you’ll need to purchase (or exchange a credit for) your audiobook on kobo.com. Once your transaction is complete, your audiobook will then appear in your Kobo App for iOS.

Once purchased, the books are yours to keep, even if you cancel your subscription. Audiobook credits are non-refundable and a credit card is required for signup.

Kobo is starting its program with only one subscription plan, one credit for $9.99. According to the company, future plans include plans with two credits a month, and annual subscriptions with 12 or 24 instant credits all at once.

The service will be available to Kobo customers living in Canada ($12.99 CA), the United States ($9.99 USD), the United Kingdom (£6.99), Australia ($13.99 AU), and New Zealand ($13.99 NZD).

Kobo is obviously trying to compete with Audible. Audible charges $14.95 per month, plus 30% off additional purchases.

The service will be live on September 12, 2017. Make sure you have updated to the latest version of the Kobo app for your device.

Are you trying the service? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

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Update: Playster cancels accounts for excessive usage

Yesterday, I posted about user claims that Playster is apparently cancelling users’ memberships because they are consuming too much content. The service is marketed as offering unlimited access to media content. There are a series of complaints, most dated over the last ten days, on sites like Trustpilot and Pissed Consumer, all claiming that their accounts were unjust flagged by the system’s fair use algorithm. These users then found their accounts cancelled or suspended. All of the members seemed to be heavy users of audiobooks.

I reached out to Playster for their side of the story. Here is their response:

Playster’s fair use algorithm has two major goals: to deter fraud and help us keep the service unlimited for all audiobook lovers.

After discovering cases of average consumption exceeding 24 hours per day, concurrent streaming on multiple IP addresses and other activity that appeared to be in violation of our terms and conditions, we felt we had no option but to take an extra cautious approach with accounts resembling any of the following:

  • Commercial use;
  • Automated consumption;
  • Recording or duplicating content;
  • Unauthorized sharing, leasing or distribution of content;
  • Public broadcasting;
  • Multiple accounts created with the same device, IP address or credit card
  • Accounts using a blacklisted device, IP address or credit card;
  • Use of a VPN or Proxy IP.

We realize some accounts may have been flagged unjustly, which is why all members were refunded their last membership charge and everyone affected was invited to submit an appeal form, so that we may address all concerns in detail with the attention they deserve. If anyone hasn’t received the appeal form or has any questions, they can email support@playster.com.

Several items on the above list are troubling to me. First, flagging an account solely because of an IP address can be a recipe for disaster (please google records companies charging 80 year old great-grandmothers with infringement for details). For a variety of reasons, IP addresses are not always unique. People create accounts from workplaces or apartment buildings that share internet access. IP address alone is not sufficient reason for denying access to an account.

Perhaps most troubling is the assumption that the use of a VPN or proxy IP suggests illegal actions. There are host of valid reasons to use a VPN for both privacy and security concerns. The use of a VPN should not imply illegal consumption of content.

Playster’s response said that members were invited to submit an appeal form. None of the complaints I read on either Trustpilot or Pissed Consumer mentioned being offered an appeal form. In fact, several of them have commented on the lack of response and long delays in hearing from customer service. At this point, no one has said that they were able to get their account reinstated.

If you have had an experience with this issue, please let me know in the comments. Are you a VPN user? Were you offered an appeal form? Was customer service’s response?  Did you get your account reinstated?

I will follow up on this story as more information becomes available.

(You can read my review of the Playster service here.)

Is Playster booting customers for reading too much?

One of my most popular posts on this blog is a review of the all-you-can-read subscription service Playster from March of 2016. Today, I received a disturbing comment on that post that claimed that Playster is apparently cancelling users’ memberships because they are consuming too much content.

According to commenter manderleylife, their account was flagged by Playster’s algorithm:

On Aug 19 I got an email from them: We’re contacting you to let you know that your Playster membership has been flagged automatically by our fair use algorithm. As a result, your membership has been frozen while we investigate why the activity on your account triggered this algorithm. To put it simply, they said my usage resembled “commercial use, automated consumption, recording/duplicating, sharing or using multiple accounts created with same device.” Playster “investigated” it and said they couldn’t determine if I was doing anything illegal so they were cancelling my membership!

Manderleylife stresses that they didn’t share or illegally use content; they were listening to audiobooks for perhaps 6-7 hours each day. Note that Playster markets its service as offing unlimited reading.

Manderleylife also pointed out that other members (also avid readers) had also had their memberships frozen and cancelled. A brief search on the internet showed a series of complaints, most dated over the last ten days, on sites like Trustpilot and Pissed Consumer. The stories are startlingly similar. All claim that their memberships were cancelled even though there was no proof of wronging other than heavy usage.

These reports showcase the problem with the all-you-can-read (or listen to) model. Avid users can indeed go through a high volume of content through the legal use a service. Just ask Scribd, who in February, 2016 had to put content limits in place and deleted most of their romance titles from the catalog, just to stop the financial drain.

While Scribd changed their system to stop the bleed, it does sound like Playster is cancelling memberships of users who are consuming more content than they are comfortable with. Unfortunately for Playster, they have marketed the service as unlimited. Cancelling memberships with no clear evidence of wrongdoing is not the right way to treat your customers.

I am reaching out to Playster to see what they have to says about the situation. More to come…

(Note: There’s an update to this story with a statement from Playster here.)

Scribd adds Selects, other features today

Scribd_Selects_500Last February, Scribd announced changes to its subscription service that would begin in mid-March. Planned changes included limiting monthly reads to only three books and one audio book, along with offering a limited selection of unlimited access titles.

Scribd began implementing the new system today. They started by unveiling the first installment of Scribd Selects on their blog. Selects are an assortment of books, audio books and comics chosen by Scribd editorial team, which can be read without additional cost or having to using one of the three allotted Monthly Read credits. This is the unlimited access portion of the subscription that Scribd previously told us about.

These titles also come with a bit of extra reading time. If you don’t have time to finish a Scribd Select during a month, you have an additional two weeks to finish the title before requires the use of a Monthly Read credit for continued access.

The March selection of titles draws books from various categories, including history, art, biography, children’s books, leadership,self-help, food, as well, as a variety of titles from genres like mystery, fantasy, science fiction and romance.

You can find the Scribd Selects lists on the Editor’s Picks Pages. They can also be found throughout various category sections. Or, you can find them on the Scribd website where they are listed separately as a book list, an audiobook list, and a comics list.

Scribd has updated its app to incorporate the new membership features. These app changes include adding Scribd Selects, filtering the library to hide previews and filtering full access  titles in the user library. The buttons on the book page have also been reorganized. Users are required to agree to the new terms and conditions when installing the new app.

There are a few interesting points in the Scribd Paid Access End User License Agreement:

The new TOS clearly distinguishes between direct purchases and membership. This made me wonder if Scribd is also attempting to position itself as an ebook retailer.

There are also a few restrictions:  One says “You may not exceed usage limitations set by content providers (participating publisher or user).” I am not exactly sure what that means. Does that mean we can be throttled for reading too much content? I wonder.

The terms also state that you can only accumulate three monthly audio book credits or nine monthly book credits at one time. Since Scribd gave everyone several free credits in February when they announce the new content terms and since I seldom listen to audio books through Scribd (I had an Audible subscription), I now have six audio book credits built up. I need to check if those will expire.

One important point clarified in the TOS: Once you have accessed a monthly book or audio book on the service you will be able to continue to read or listen to that title as long as your membership remains active in the material remains available on Scribd’s services. That means it is not exactly like a a library book that expires.

The TOS also states if Scribd removes commercial content that you have purchased, it may provide to you, at its sole discretion, a limited window of time in which to download such removed commercial content. I intend to ask for a clarification of this one before I buy anything. Does this mean I am buying it or not?

At the present time, you can purchase additional audio books from the service, but you cannot purchase additional monthly reads or comics.

Is it just me, or do some of these new terms sound a little murky? Or murkier than than the typical legalese….

So, what do you think of the changes to Scribd? Does this sound like what you expected it was going to be like?

How to see the books you’ve read in Kindle Unlimited

I’ve been a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited since last August. Since I also subscribe to Scribd as well as purchase my own books, I like to periodically check and make sure that I am using the service enough to justify the cost. While I do keep track of the books I read on Goodreads, I just don’t always remember to make a note that I have read them through  the Kindle Unlimited service.

Did you know that there is a way to check which books you’ve read through your Kindle Unlimited subscription?

First, log in to Amazon and go to your Account >  Manage Your Content and Devices page. Go to the Your Content section of the page.

MYK_ books

Click the books box to expand the menu and select and click Kindle Unlimited.

MYK_KU

Note that the box that formerly said all, now says books. The list of books below this section shows you the titles you currently have borrowed from Kindle Unlimited. It also shows the date the books were borrowed. You can sort these items by title, author, and date borrowed.

MYK_books_box

Click on the books box to expand the menu. There are four menu items: books, all, audio books, and returned.

MYK_returned

Books and all show you the currently borrowed books you have on your device. Audiobooks shows you any audio book versions automatically included with any KU books you have borrowed. The returned option shows you all the titles you have borrowed and returned from Kindle Unlimited. the returned books can also be sorted by title, author and date borrowed.

And that’s it! It’s that easy! 🙂 If you are  doing a 30-Day Free Trial of Kindle Unlimited, it is a great way to see if you are using the service enough to make it worthwhile for you. If you have tried the program, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Playster Subscription Service: A Review

Official_PlaysterTextLogo_lightFor the last few weeks (from 1/23/2016 to 2/18/2016), I have been using the 30 day free trial of the Playster subscription service.  With the current membership changes at Scribd, other options for subscription services become even more important. Here’s my review of the service:

Overview:

Playster is a multimedia subscription service owned by Playster Corporation. The corporation has offices in New York and the UK. The service offers a combination of books,  audiobooks,  movies, music and games and calls itself “the Netflix of everything.”

You can access content on up to six devices. There are no usage stipulations per se, although there is a clause in the TOS that states the service can “take any action that imposes or may impose (as determined by us in our sole discretion) an unreasonable or disproportionately large load on our (or our third party providers’) infrastructure.” Theoretically, I suppose that could be used to stop someone who was using too much content, but there are no other explicit restrictions.

An Internet connection is required to use the service. It is a streaming service, not a download service. According to TOS, “Playster does use some data, and an Internet connection is required to access and consume our Content.”

You can access the service via a web browser or through the Playster app, which is available for IOS and Android.

Pricing:

The service offers a bundled combination of books,  audiobooks,  movies, music and games for $24.95 month. Each of the services are available individually. Books and music subscriptions are $9.95 each monthly. Game subscriptions are $4.95 per month and movies are $3.95. There is a 30 day free trial before you are actually billed for your subscription and a credit card is required at the time of sign up.

In the United States, if you sign up for unlimited books, movies, music and games for 12 months, Playster will include the Playster Combo Box, a branded tablet, with your subscription. The tablet is shipped right away and you pay a $9.95 shipping cost.

Playster’s home page says that each subscription component is available individually  Perhaps because I had signed up for the free trial for the bundle, I could not see any way to change my subscription to only an ebook or movie one, although on the sign up page,  you could sign up for a single component. Originally, I saw advertising stating that the service is capable of multiple logins so that it can be used by an entire family. I could not figure out how to set up multiple logins through my account, although those features may not have been available on the free trial version.

The subscription auto-renews “successive renewal periods of the same duration as the subscription term originally selected starting from the anniversary date.” You can read the whole terms and conditions here.

To use the service, you must consent to automatic upgrading on your mobile device, and agree that the Terms and Conditions will apply to all upgrades.

Playster’s website states that you can cancel your membership at any time either online or via telephone by calling 1-844-825-6276. If you are on the 12 month Playster Combo Box plan that includes the tablet, you must call to cancel membership. The TOS states that any payments already made are non-refundable. (The payment terms are here.)

Sign up:

I had a choice of signing up with Facebook, Google Plus or using an email and password. I chose Google and had a problem because of it. While I had no problem on the Playster website, when I tried to download the android app on my phone, it only gave me the option to login via an email/ password combo. For some reason, it did not recognize me as logged into Google on my phone. The forgot password link took me to the browser which did recognize me as I signed in (meaning the website recognized that my phone was signed into Google services). But I still couldn’t get in to the app. I tried going to the website and changing my password, but found I could not create a new password because it required an old one (which I didn’t have because I signed up with G+). I ultimately had to email customer service to reset the password for me.

Devices Tested:

For the purposes of testing the service, I used the following devices: Win 7 Dell desktop computer with 6GB RAM,  Samsung Galaxy Note 8 tablet, a Galaxy Note 2 phone,  a first generation  iPad mini ((IOS), a  Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (2012 model with an HDMI port) on the Silk browser) and my Fire HD 6. I used the older 8.9 because I wanted one that I could connect to my TV. I tried the HD 6 because that’s my default device to use for reading Scribd and I wanted to compare the reading experience.

I tested all devices except the Kindle Fires with all types of media on both the app and the web version. Other exceptions are noted in the text below. The Kindle test was browser only (I didn’t want to sideload an old APK version of the app). App versions used were Android 2.0.0.260 (phone), and IOS app version: 2.0.2 (103).

Content:

Playster gives you the opportunity to see some of the available content  at  http://read.playster.com. Whether they actually have that content may be a different story. There were a quite a few titles in the preview section that I was unable to find once I had signed up. I don’t know if this is a geo-blocking issue. I have read a lot of complaints about Playster not having content they advertised as having as part of the service.

Playster’s terms of service does state:

Our library of Content is ever-changing, and we reserve the right to alter the Content available without notice. We do not guarantee that any Contentwill be made available (or continue to be available) on the Site or through the Services. For example, the availability of Content may vary from Device to Device, and may be affected by a number of factors. These factors include (but are not limited to) your location, the bandwidth available through and/or speed of your Internet connection.

Currently, Playster offers books, audiobooks, music, games and movies. Because Playster allows you to subscribe separately to each type of content, I am going to discuss each type of content separately.

There is one caveat to keep in mind as I describe the content in each category:  The search function on the service is terrible. I found a lot more content by browsing than I did by searching, so when I talk about the limitations, it could be that I simply could not find content in a particular category.

Books: 

Selection: There’s a fairly wide variety of books in numerous genres and categories: New York Times Bestsellers, romance, literary fiction, non-fiction, business books,  young adult and more. The books are a mixture of both newer and older material. The age of the titles varies with some newer (What the Dog Knows is from 2015), and some a couple of years old (American Sniper, 2012, Veronica Roth’s Four the Transfer,2013  and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, 2013). There are also classics like 12 Years a Slave and Huckleberry Finn.

Currently, Playster has announced licensing deals with Findaway, Harlequin, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins.

None of the subscription services have The Girl on a Train, so I was not surprised to see that ebook missing, although they do have it in audiobook form. I did not see The Hunger Games or Harry Potter as ebooks either.

The sheer numbers of certain kinds of books was interesting. There are lots of books by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps), plenty of Star War tie-ins and more Star Trek tie-in books than I have ever seen in one place in my life…. In fact, the science fiction collection was pretty amazing. There were collections of old SF magazines like Amazing Stories, Astounding, Weird Tales, Galaxy, IF – the list goes on and on. There were Best of Year anthologies from the 1970s that I would have loved to read.

There are a lot of books to choose from, depending on what genre you like to read.

Reading experience: I have to say, the e-reading experience with Playster was really awful. I actually did not get to read one book during my trial period. Yes, the experience was that bad!

One of my biggest problems was an inability to dramatically change the font size. I have had two surgeries on my eyes, so I am somewhat visually impaired. I need a large font size to read comfortably. On all devices on the web version, I found that I couldn’t change font size at all. On the android app, there was a limited ability to change the size, but I couldn’t get it large enough to meet my needs. On the Kindle, it changed the font for the introduction but not for the main text of the book.

Another source of frustration was the page turn display itself. While the page turn experience on the web was similar to Amazon’s Cloud reader, on the Android app, every time you turned the page, it would generate a blank page which showed for approximately two seconds. That made the reading experience so choppy, it was miserable and frustrating to try and work with. The iPad experience was better due to the real page turn effect that the iPad uses for books. The Kindle page turns were the best of all of them, but I still could not get the font large enough to be able to read on it.

The search experience on Playster is really bad across the board: bad on the web, on the app, in the category suggestions and so on.  You cannot search by author at all, only by title. The genre and category placements were not well organized. I had a hard time finding specific books, so the browse function was basically the only way to find a title you wanted to read. Definitely disappointing.

I could not recommend this service for anyone who had and kind of vision impairment or special needs. The reading app is just too poorly designed.

Audiobooks: 

Selection:  There seemed to be a fairly nice selection of audiobooks from Blackstone audio and other publishers. They had a lot of the current audiobooks I see on Scribd: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, E.L. James’ Grey, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, and Girl on a Train. There we well-represented genre sections that included romance, kid and teens books, even a section for Star Wars audiobooks. There were also audiobooks of some classic radio shows.

I found a number of non-fiction books, many in the history and business categories. The Earworms series of language learning audiobooks were particularly interesting as part of an unlimited listening service – these were premium listens on Scribd (before the new service terms).

Listening experience:  The real problem with the audiobooks is the lack of a player in the app. There is no access at all to audiobooks on either the Android or IOS app. You can only access the catalog and listen to books on a web browser. Even there, the controls are very limited. It does not let you exit and resume at the same spot you stopped reading. Once you close out the web browser, you could only choose a chapter to begin to play a book. You couldn’t resume. Audiobooks also do not seem to sync across devices. Remember, this service is streaming only ( no downloads), so it is impossible to play content on another app.

One thing that is not clear is what category audiobooks books belong in. Are they bundled with the books or as part of the music category? I am assuming books, but don’t know for sure, so I am uncertain how to evaluate it.

Given Scribd’s new pricing structure for books and audiobooks, if Playster had a decent player, it could be a better alternative than Audible or Scribd for audiobooks. As is, the audiobook experience is just not good enough, especially if you have used another audiobook app like Audible’s.

Music:

Selection: Playster has a very odd selection of music.  They do have some newer albums and artists – they had dubstep, hip hop and newer albums.  But a lot of the music offered is quite old. For example, in the Country category, I found a lot of older artists:  Gene Autry, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams. They also had a lot of interesting folk recordings, many of them early recordings of successful artists like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.

There was a lot of classical music to listen to. The majority that I found were recordings of well-known pieces by little-known artists and obscure European symphonies. (If you have ever bought one of those 100 Pieces of Classical Music albums for 99 cents, these are the same kind of recordings. Good, but not necessarily definitive recordings.) Blues and Jazz classics seemed pretty well represented: There were recordings by Etta James, Robert Johnson, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis.

The site offered popular and genre recommendations, but the results were quite strange. An Elvis Presley gospel album was listed in hip hop. Dean Martin listed in pop music might have worked in 1965, but now? And how do you justify putting Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman in the world music category? I really think the algorithms for the service needed a bit of work.

Listening experience: Except for the search and recommendations issues, the music experience was probably one of the best of all the Playster categories that I tried.  The controls were straight forward and there were no volume or streaming issues.  Given the content, I don’t think that I would pay $9.95 a month for it, but it would be okay as a part of a subscription package if your tastes run to older material.

Games:

Selection: The service has games for Android and PC. I was fairly unimpressed with the Android selection. Many of the games that I saw for Android were from a company called Playtouch and, for me at least, they left a lot to be desired. Many of the android games were geared at children, not adults. The Playtouch games also had a lot of misspellings in the descriptions.

For the PC, you can only play games by downloading the Playster game player to your PC. Since I knew by this point I wasn’t going to keep the subscription, I did not bother to download the player.

The game categories available for both Android and PC included action adventure, shooter and RPG/MMO games and classics  like Pong, Millipede, Asteroids, and Super Breakout. There were strategy and war games, sport and racing, as well as Arcade games. They also had puzzle, hidden object and casino games. They do have Duke Nukem 3D if that’s a deal breaker for you. 🙂

On the IOS version on my iPad, there were no games available on either the app or web version for the iPad.

Experience:  I played a couple of Android games on my phone. I thought the card games I tried tended to lag quite a bit. Strangely, many of the games had to be downloaded instead of streamed and the wait time was also a factor, at least for me. On my Android phone and my Kindle, a couple of the games, downloaded directly and still played, even after I deleted the Playster app. I had to uninstall them manually.  I assume that this is a glitch, because the content is supposed to be streaming only.

I think the value of the games portion of this subscription really depends on who this is for and how much of a gamer you are. This might be a great selection for games to amuse a child, depending on age. I am more of a casual card, puzzle and board games type of gamer and in this category, so there wasn’t a lot of substance to interest me, but YMMV.

Movies:

 Selection: Due to the lack of a decent search tool, I really can’t tell you what kind of content is in this category. There are a lot of movies. From what I could tell, the selection is heavy on documentaries and music video compilations. I spot checked some of the films and everything I checked seemed to also be available on Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix.

Experience: I watched three documentaries. The app for my phone updated between the first and the second film. With the first film I watched (with the first phone version of the app), the experience was less than stellar. There was flickering on the playback and the app stalled after about 10 minutes.

The second time (with the updated app) was a smoother experience. There was much less flicker. You cannot Chromecast directly from the app, so in order to watch on my television, I had to watch in the browser and then cast the entire window. This is a less than optimal experience from both the visual and sound points of view. The audio was too quiet and the lips were out of sync with the film.

The third film I watched on the iPad and the video quality was actually much better on this version of the app than anywhere else. On the Safari browser, however, the movie would not load. I also could not get a film to load on the Kindle, although that might have been a problem with the Dolphin browser.

There are no closed captions available that I could find. There also seems to be no way to watch part of a movie and then resume where you left off.  These two factors alone are deal breakers for me. Add in not being integrated with Chromecast and not having a ROKU channel and this is basically way too limited compared to my experience with Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu.

Overall Playster Experience:

The number one problem with this service is that the search function across the board is so poorly designed, it is basically unusable. I couldn’t search for books by author or music by artist at all. I actually searched for specific titles, albums and artists that I had already found in the system, yet they still didn’t come up in the search.

The other feature that was really hard to work with was the sync across devices feature. Like the search function, this one is also practically non-existent. Items added to the MY Library section, never showed up on any version of the app or other browser versions.

It seems apparent that Playster is working on the service as the app actually updated twice during my trial. When using the first version, the app kept crashing on my phone. It did work on my Samsung tablet. The next time the app updated, it did work correctly on my phone.

Playster also really needs to work on the battery issues with its apps. On every device I used it on, the battery drained way too quickly!

Given the recent changes to Scribd’s services, I really, really wanted to like their ebook service. (I am currently a subscriber to Scribd and Kindle Unlimited.) The science fiction collection alone probably could have convinced me to subscribe to the books category. But no matter how great the content, if a customer is unable to use it, it doesn’t matter. The service totally failed to provide a decent ebook reading experience.

There is so much about this service that just isn’t technically “there” yet. Closed captions and resume and play features for video are essential, basic components of streaming video and I am shocked that the service doesn’t have them.

The ads I saw for Playster were promoting it as a family service. If Playster is a family service, it needs to be usable on a television or large screen.  The inability to Chromecast directly from the app or integrate with devices like a ROKU, an Amazon Fire TV or another method of streaming to a bigger screen is definitely a missing component that the service really needs, especially for the premium bundled subscription price.

The member area of Playster’s website still says Beta, but since it hasn’t been updated for a long time, I am not sure if that is accurate or not.  The technical issues on the service are those you would expect to find in the beta version of a service. The $24.95 price tag is a premium price for a service that is definitely not ready for prime time.

Help and Customer Service: As stated above, I had to contact customer service to get my login straightened out. The response from customer service was very prompt, friendly and helpful.

Because the service is fairly new, the help section online is pretty basic. As a person who likes to figure things out for myself, I would have liked to see a lot more information there. The site does have a little-used forum section for the community to ask questions.

Canceling:

On the web, there was a big “Cancel Membership” button at the top of my account page. The first time I tried it on the desktop, it looked like that button just goes to an error page. I had to scroll down further to see the cancel membership button. You must go through several screens in order to cancel. I was asked to take a brief survey to explain why I was canceling.

And in case this was a question, I have not had any additional charges from Playster after canceling.  (I have run across reviews from people saying that Playster continued to charge their credit cards after they had canceled. I have had no problems.)

Have you tried Playster? What did you think of the service?

Scribd adds new content limits

scribdIf 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?