Apple does audiobooks: Great First Listens for free

Audiobook lovers, Apple Books wants you! This week, they are offering up a collection of six free audiobooks called Great First Listens. The books are all classics in the public domain and all have celebrity narrators

The six titles are: .

I have to confess that I downloaded all of these! While I enjoy audiobooks in general, I particularly love hearing beloved classics turned into audiobooks. Language constantly grows and evolves and many of the books we consider classics have a much more formal feel than today’s writing styles offer. I think classics thrive as audiobooks because the narration tends to make the stories even more accessible to the modern listener.

Any of these strike your fancy?

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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?

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.

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!

AudiobookStand is closing (and having a big last chance sale)

Audiobook vendor  Audiobookstand.com is going to be closing down August 3, 2018.

If you like to listen to your audiobooks on CD, you may very well have been familiar with the company. It was known for its large collection of CD and MP-CD audiobooks, especially of Brilliance Audio tiles. I discovered them years ago when I was looking for books for my daily commute, and they had one of the best collections of CD audiobooks at the best prices I could find at the time.

The company is offering bargain prices on remaining stock, with limited quantities of audiobooks priced as low as $3 and $4. The site is currently experiencing a large volume of sales and customers are being warned to expect a delivery delay.

It probably isn’t a surprise that the site is closing down, given the current focus on digital downloads. The company is recommending Amazon and Audible to customers looking for an alternative place to discover and buy audiobooks.

Playster raises price and limits collections for audiobook listening

Customers’ voracious appetite for audiobooks seems to once again be a problem for subscription platform Playster. A few months back, I wrote about Playster cancelling the accounts of customers for excessive audiobook listening (here and here). At the same time, they quickly and quietly raised the price of the audiobook portion of their subscription service from $9.95 to $14.95.

Now, Playster has announced that they are limiting the size of the collection for subscribers at the $14.95 level and adding a new unlimited premium tier at double the price: $29.95.

Playster is calling the plan at the $14.95 price point the Basic plan. The plan offers “unlimited access to 40,000+ titles from world-class authors, like Michael Crichton, Janet Evanovich and Faye Kellerman.” Playster also says they have improved the audiobook player experience.

The new Premium plan offers “unlimited access to 100,000+ of the newest titles made available on the same day they’re released”. The Premium plan includes authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Dan Brown, George R.R. Martin. Subscribers are promised “unlimited access to every major and classic title they can dream of”.

According to Playster’s support page on the plan changes, “some members may temporarily lose access to their playlists, downloaded titles and/or audiobooks they’ve started.”

The changes to the audiobook plans went into effect yesterday, December 22, 2017. As of today, the website is still showing $14.95 for the cost of the audiobook subscription.

Not surprisingly, the complaints have already started. On TrustPilot, the words bait and switch are used a lot. Most people are saying that the books they have saved to read are all in the Premium tier. Customers who recently started free trials are complaining that the trial only seems to apply to the Basic tier, not the Premium. One comment said that all the books in the basic tier were the same content available on Librivox (a service that offers free public domain audiobooks). Others are saying that, with the new, higher price,  Audible is a better deal.

Subscription service Scribd made many similar choices in February and March of 2016 and it cost them a lot of subscribers. Scribd culled many of its popular genres (like the romance and comics categories) and also divided its catalog into two tiers and limited the number of books and audiobooks subscribers could access in Selects, its premium tier.

I don’t doubt that we will hear more about this from customers. As audiobooks continue to soar in popularity, affordable access for avid listeners is going to be an even more important issue. Subscription services seem to continue to underestimate the demand for audiobooks.

The public library is looking better and better for audiobook aficionados.

Are you a Playster subscriber? What do you think?

(Thanks to Angel for the tip!)

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

New updates bring Audible to basic Kindle and new customization options

Today’s announcement of the all-new Kindle Oasis included big news on the integration of Audible audiobooks into the device.  Audible integration will roll out as an update when the new Oasis device ships on October 31, 2017.

Also included in the announcement was the news that the basic, entry-level Kindle (current generation 8), along with the first generation Oasis,  will also be getting Audible integration over the coming months. This may be a feature that makes the basic Kindle (which does not have a backlight) more desirable as a device for prospective owners. As noted in this post on The eBook Reader, at least according to its reviews,  the basic, entry level kindle is not well liked.

Today’s announcement also included news of new firmware updates that would add new settings for reading customization, including new font sizes, bolding options and new margin options including an option for left-aligned  /ragged right text..

The new features are:

  • New Font Size and Bold Settings: Now choose from more font sizes than ever before–and five levels of boldness–for whichever font you choose to read with. Combined with the new, 7-inch Paperwhite display, you can personalize your books so it’s perfectly comfortable for your eyes.
  • New Accessibility Options: In addition to the OpenDyslexic font, we’ve added a feature to invert black and white on the display if you have light sensitivity. The new enlarged display option also lets you increase the size of items like the text on the home screen and library as well as the book icons to make the all-new Kindle Oasis easier to read.
  • Light Settings: Built-in ambient light sensors automatically adjust the display to your surroundings whether you’re in a dimly-lit room or outside in the sun–and can be fine-tuned even further based on personal preferences.
  • Ragged Right Alignment: You can now read using left-aligned (ragged right) text.

To me, one of the most intriguing of the new features is the ability to invert black-and-white on the display for those with light sensitivity. This is generally a feature found on apps and tablets, not e-ink readers (although there is supposedly a hack for the Kobo line here.). My old Literarti e-reader had this feature, and I can tell you, being able to read white text on a black screen in a dark room Is a great feature for reading in the middle of the night without disturbing your partner! 🙂

The new firmware features will be delivered as a free over the air update to the Kindle Paperwhite and newer devices starting today.