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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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!

Scribd brings back unlimited reading (sort of)

Once again, subscription service Scribd has changed its rules on how much content users are allowed to access. This makes at least the fourth time in the last two years that the service has changed the rules on its paying subscribers.

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.

Needless to say, if social media comments are anything to go by, a lot of subscribers have bailed on the service since 2016.

Scribd’s latest app update was released yesterday and as of today, the service will again be offering access to unlimited* access to books and audiobooks. (Please note the asterisk behind the word unlimited.)

The facts behind the asterisk can be found on the page with the EULA:

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]

In plain English, that means that if you consume too much content, Scribd can, and will, throttle you.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, the company’s CEO Trip Adler, the service has mechanisms in place “to limit particularly heavy consumption by a small percentage of its subscribers.” When overuse is detected, “controls will kick in to limit power readers’ access to the most expensive and popular titles.”  The service claims that even heavy users will still have access to a wide variety of content. There is no way of knowing how many books or audiobooks will be enough to kick in the controls.

It is that lack of transparency about how many is too many that is a real issue when evaluating their service. How does a consumer decide between subscribing to Audible or Scribd for audiobooks if one has a concrete limit and the other is unknown? And if Scribd want’s to woo back some of those former subscribers who felt betrayed over previous changes. This is particularly true for romance reader and audiobook listeners who tend to be heavy users of content and were really upset when they found out unlimited didn’t really mean unlimited. Even though Scribd is saying that upfront now, the lack of a solid number of allowable reads will make it a hard sell for many. Can subscribers trust that the service will be able to maintain this level of use (whatever that may be) at this price point?

Given Scribd’s own history and the fact that Playster (the other “unlimited” reading service) has recently deleted customers’ accounts for using too much content and raised prices and placed content limits on their subscribers, trusting a subscription service may be hard sell right now.

So what do you think? Are you a former Scribd subscriber? Will this make you go back?

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 says goodbye to comics

comics-999504_1920Yesterday,  Nate from The Digital Reader reported that subscription service Scribd has removed comic books from its services. According to the article, Scribd confirmed the deletion in a statement, noting that few users had taken advantage of the comics content. They also said that they had notified comics readers via email in early December.

Now, while I am not a comics reader, I am a Scribd subscriber and can testify to the fact that I certainly did not receive any notice of changes to the service. And while I hadn’t read any comics through the service, as a customer, I would have at least expected to be notified of that significant of a change to its catalog.

Over the past several years, Scribd has made several adjustments to their all-you-can-read subscription service. The service removed the lion’s share of romance novels, decreased the number of audiobooks and finally went to a limited credit system with a rotating selection of free content. The sum total of these changes left many customers extremely dissatisfied.

There are several aspects to this change that are particularly disturbing. First and foremost is the lack of communication on Scribd’s part. One cannot help but wonder if Scribd was hoping to slide the change in under the radar of its main bulk of subscribers. Scribd faced a huge amount of public blowback over the previous paring down of its service. Scribd itself acknowledged that the the comics selection was underutilized. I also suspect  that comics readers may be a lot like romance readers in the amount of content that they consume. They may have decided it was more beneficial to the bottom line to alienate a smaller section of their customer base to save money.

I always get concerned when companies stop communicating. In the past, Scribd was fairly actively engaged in keeping contents updated on its blog. Currently, Scribd has two blogs. The main blog, geared towards customer announcements, is seldom updated. The other blog, called Literally, is penned by Scribd’s editors and features reviews, recommendations, quizzes, essays, and other reading related contents (and is also more frequently updated). There was no mention of the comics issue that I could find on either blog.

Scribd’s actions certainly leave its comics readers in the lurch. It also raises questions about the long-term solvency of Scribd itself as a subscription service. What seems clear is that Scribd has once again decreased its offerings and is  offering less content for the same price. That’s certainly a decrease in perceptive value to its customers and potential subscribers.

Personally, I use Scribd predominantly for ebooks (and the occasional audiobook). Most of the books I use the service for are books that either cost more than I am willing to pay and/or are unavailable at the library. Since I also buy books, use the library and to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, even reading one or two books on the service a month is worth the cost for me. However, the company lost a lot of trust with their customers with their previous heavy-handed changes to the catalog. Not openly communicating with their customers certainly doesn’t help that trust issue. While I am not unsubscribing (yet), I sure don’t  see myself purchasing a long-term subscription at this rate.

How about you? What do you think?

NOTE: See my article Free Digital Comics and Graphic Novels for sources of free comics.

Daily Links and Deals: Can Google Translate Help Translate a Classic Novel?

daily_links_1Today, a look at using Google Translate on something as complex as a novel. Also, some Kindle users are having an issue with Windows 10, Scribd has made some changes to address discovery issues and we’re still talking about that monkey selfie. In deals, Amazon is offering significant savings on household products.

Daily Links for day, August 26, 2016:

Some Kindle users reporting Windows 10 Anniversary compatibility issues (ZD Net) Windows 10 has managed to break yet something else.

Amazon just launched Vehicles, a place to talk about and lust after cars (The Next Web) But Amazon’s not selling cars – just an awful lot of of parts and accessories.

Google now lets you play ‘Solitaire’ in search results (Mashable) And you can play Tic-Tac-Toe… Forget getting any work done.

If a monkey snaps a selfie, does it own the rights to its own photograph? (Quartz) Yes, we are still talking about that picture.

Can Google Translate Help Translate a Classic Novel? (Publisher’s Weekly) We probably have a lot of misconceptions about how Google Translate works, a fact that highlighted when you try to translate a novel.

Scribd Introduces New Discovery Experience (Scribd.Literally) Since these changes are mostly about curated content, I’m underwhelmed, but YMMV.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes Life After Life: A Novel by Jill McCorkle.

In Today’s Deals, Amazon has a large assortment of household products and cleaning supplies. Also, you can also still get $15 off the regular price of the Amazon Tap and the Certified Refurbished Amazon Echo for $150.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is AT Bay (An Alex Troutt Thriller, Book 1) by John W. Mefford. The Romance Daily Find is Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. The Extra Daily Deal is Enslave Me Sweetly by Gena Showalter.

Also, until August 29, 2016, there’s a Back to School Sale: books $4.99 or less. There is also a  selection of Great Reads Under $5 and Bargain Reads in Fiction, in Mystery and other genres.

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes Time for School, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz.

Google Books has a selection of Best Beach Read Bets.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Last Minute Mother’s Day Ebook Gifts

mom_tattooHappy Mother’s Day!

If you still need an last minute e-book gift for your mom, here’s a few ideas:

Send an ebook as a gift

Has mom been talking about a new book she just can’t wait to read? Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iBooks all let you buy a specific ebook as a gift. Look for the “Buy as a Gift” button on the book detail page.

Give a subscription

You can give an all-you-can-read subscription to Kindle Unlimited as a gift. It costs $9.99 and is available for gifting in 6,12,and 24 month membership terms.

The Scribd service also offers a gift subscription option.  You can select from three terms: 3 months for $25, 6 months for $50, or 1 year for $99. Scribd lets you an print out the e-card and hand-deliver it yourself.

For audiobook fans, what about a subscription to Audible?  The service features over 180,000 audio titles. Gifts are available in 3,6 and 12 month memberships. And, if there is a specific book you have in mind that you’d like to give, you can also choose to gift an individual book.

Give a gift card

If you are not sure what mom really wants, gift cards make an awesome choice. I always ask for these so I can buy books! 🙂 These are great because they work for buying both print and ebooks. So where does your mom like to shop?

If Mom has a Kindle, how about an Amazon gift card? You can send them via email or print it out an home and present to mom in person. You can even put your baby picture on it – she’ll love it.

If mom loves her Nook, a Barnes and Noble  gift card is a great gift. The cards can be redeemed online for ebooks and web order in the store.

Itunes Gift Cards make a fantastic gift if you are centered in the Apple Universe. You can get them in a range of denominations, they are available at retailers  almost everywhere or you can buy them online. And, they work for everything: apps, music, books, TV and movies or Apple music.

For Android lovers, Google Play Gift Certificates are a very versatile gift. They can be used for apps, music, books and movies from the Play store. They are available in denominations from $10. Plus, you can buy them online or pick them up a local store when you are on your way to take mom to brunch. 🙂

(Sorry Kobo fans! Kobo US does not seem to be offering the option to send a book or buy a gift card on their website.)