Do All-You-Can-Read Subscriptions Need Curation? (No and Yes)

Curator Wanted - This book owner is overwhelmed by his 20,000 title strong library and is in need of a curator. Applicants need to show previous experience at a library or bookstore. Send CV and cover letter to ...

42737703_2bbc6bc21e_bOver the past 18 months subscription ebook services like Scribd, Oyster, and Kindle Unlimited have increased their catalogs to the point that the average reader can't keep up. With a million or more titles in Scribd and Oyster, readers need a curation service to help them discover their next read.

That is what Joe Wikert argued on his blog yesterday. Needless to say, I don't agree.

The initial promise is compelling, especially for voracious readers. For $10-$15/month consumers get access to more content than they could possibly read in a month. That ultimately creates a bigger problem than the subscription platforms probably realize.

For more than a year now I’ve been a subscriber to both Oyster, for books, and Next Issue, for magazines. Both have slightly altered my reading habits but neither are serving their content in an optimal manner.

For Next Issue, it’s as though the U.S. Post Office backs up a truck and dumps 100+ magazines every month. Sure, there are many I enjoy and a few that I used to value enough to buy individually in the print days. Compare that large, unreadable stack to one thin magazine, The Week. If I had to choose between the 100+ Next Issue magazines and The Week, the latter wins every time.

What makes The Week so unique? Their editors are curating and quoting content from many other magazines, covering both sides of all the major issues. IOW, when I read The Week I feel as if I just read the Cliff’s Notes of all the top newspapers and magazines…and I can accomplish this in less than an hour.

The Week is efficient and Next Issue is bloated. When I finish reading an issue of The Week I feel like I got a thorough global debriefing in record time. When I close the Next Issue app I feel like I wasted much of the abundant content in magazines I never opened let alone read.

While I would concede that his example is valid, I don't agree with the way that he extends his argument to include ebook subscription services.

Yes, Wikert has a fire hose problem with Next Issue. A ton of new content is dumped on him every week, and a lot of it will go stale if not read right away. (Speaking as a blogger, I feel his pain.)

That is a problem, yes, but I don't think the same problem extends to subscription ebook services. Oyster may have a million titles, but it doesn't add a ton of new works each week. The ebooks can also sit on a reading list without going stale.

This is why I suggest that rather than compare Oyster and Scribd to a magazine and news subscription service,it would be better to look to other large collections of books: public libraries, for example.

I would argue that Oyster and Scribd have the same firehose problems as large libraries.  In short, I don't think they have a problem at all.

Yes, libraries do sometimes have huge catalogs, but I have never been overwhelmed by the idea of finding my next read. Between book blogs and social networks like Twitter and Goodreads (sites which solve the discovery problem), I've always approached a library with a good idea of what I was looking for. If nothing else, I know my preferred genre to browse for a new book.

Tell me, do you ever feel overwhelmed by your library's catalog? What about Oyster, Scribd, or Kindle Unlimited?

images by 416styleGeorgie R

About Nate Hoffelder (11579 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

7 Comments on Do All-You-Can-Read Subscriptions Need Curation? (No and Yes)

  1. Like TV shows and movies, mags and ebooks are very different.
    He misses the point of all you can eat when it comes to mags, it’s the opposite of curation. It’s a different service and it’s goal is to be that, he just prefers another type of service where he chooses to outsource curation. Like getting lost in Paris vs taking a guided tour. Sure all you can eat can offer vast capabilities to create your own library not just by title but by subject, authors and a million other things but no idea how good Next Issue is at that. Ofc one service could also offer both types of experience mif they choose to.
    For ebooks , how the hell do you do curation anyway? It’s more a matter of content discovery but that’s mostly aimed at helping the user find something he wants when he doesn’t have anything, not at offloading.
    People today have a weird ability to mismanage their resources, maybe our lifestyle has changed too fast and some are failing to adapt fast enough.
    In conclusion, just stop eating too much if it makes you sick.

    • For ebooks , how the hell do you do curation anyway? It’s more a matter of content discovery but that’s mostly aimed at helping the user find something he wants when he doesn’t have anything, not at offloading.

      That is what I realized about halfway through the post, yes.

  2. The library at the University where I work is so overwhelming, I am afraid to go in there. But I want to very much.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on this topic, Nate. I’d like to add that I’m not suggesting the non-curated, all-you-can-read models should go away. I’m simply suggesting they should look at adding other models to their offerings, including a curated version.

    • Actually, they already do offer curation – it’s just framed as discovery. Oyster has that book blog The Oyster Review, and both services curate collections of titles based on themes, genres, and other connections.

      I really don’t think this is a service anyone could charge extra for; if nothing else someone is going to give it away for free in order to undercut the paid service.

      And while we’re on the topic, you might want to look into Rooster. That is a very similar idea to what you suggest, only with a single title suggested every month.

  4. I have Scribd right now and am less overwhelmed by it than I was with Oyster just because of the number of audiobooks they have. I can actually get through a couple audios a month while driving to and from work, which makes my subscription worth the price, but with books only I feel totally overwhelmed. It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have so many books already on my Kindle, plus I get new releases from the library. Way more books to read than I have time for and it does kind of drive me crazy!

  5. Al the Great and Powerful // 13 May, 2015 at 10:03 pm // Reply

    Its a sea of books, jump in! Embrace the variety… Its not a race to read them all, read what you want.

    I keep a pool and a lake. The lake is my Calibre collection, it is ALL my ebooks, Gigabytes of ebooks (I’ve been collecting ebooks since the 90s). The pool is my tablet, (and my kindle is another pool, for bathroom reading), with what has caught my interest FROM the lake.

    I read things from the pool, which i fill periodically with stuff dipped out of the lake. Once i read it, I dump it off the tablet, and if I haven’t read it in a while, i dump it from the tablet, because it is still there in the lake for later.

    Curation? Nobody’s got time for that. Dip up a bucketload of choices that you can read, and keep the original ebook files in your own lake on a computer, (or, if you can afford it or don’t own as many, in the cloud)…

    If I might want to read it, it goes into the lake.

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