Apps for reading could be your Netflix of books


Oyster iPhone app icon. (Oyster)

It’s happened too many times to count: You plop down money for a new book, full of promise, then get a few chapters into it and — horrors! — realize that it’s not actually that good. There goes another $15 down the drain. ¶ But what if you didn’t have to worry about getting stuck with a “bad” book? Several subscription book services have come onto the scene claiming to be the Netflix of books — a big claim, to be sure. They promise that, for a flat fee, you can sample and read multiple books on your cell phone, tablet or e-reader.

None of these services is perfect. Your mileage may vary, especially when it comes to selection. In that way, they face the same problem that video-streaming services do. But if you regularly spend more than $15 per month on books, subscribing to one of these e-book services may be a great way to fill up those long, lazy summer days without worrying about buying a clunker.

When discussing book subscription services, most people think of Oyster , a $9.95-per-month provider that gives you unlimited access to its library via an app. The company, long a fixture for Apple devices, announced this month that it is expanding to Android, including support for Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) The service features more than 500,000 titles from the back catalogues of major publishers and smaller houses. Reading on this app is a pretty straightforward experience. You can pick the fonts you want, and you can save the last 10 books you selected for offline reading.

But Oyster faces stiff competition from Scribd . Originally a site just for posting documents, Scribd has struck deals with major publishers to provide a library of more than 400,000 titles for $8.99 per month. Scribd has many of the same features and greater brand recognition, setting it up for success with digital bookworms. It also has a strong focus on providing digital copies of short items — essays, short stories and other documents such as maps or brochures that users upload — that may appeal particularly to mobile users who want material they can read in bursts. Scribd is available on Apple and Android devices and on Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Against those two, the third option, Entitle , seems pricey. This service offers users two titles for $9.99 per month, three for $14.99 per month or 24 for $99 a year. But Entitle comes with two significant perks that the others don’t: You get access to new releases from Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, and you get to keep the books you download each month. Think of it as the modern version of the Book of the Month Club rather than a rental service. Entitle works on Apple and Android devices, the Kindle Fire, the Nook and some e-ink readers, although not Amazon’s Kindle.


Entitle book reading app. (Entitle)

Of course, the original source for trying a book before you buy it is your local library. That’s how most of today’s readers tasted many different titles while growing up, forming a lifelong devotion to historical fiction or Russian classics or fantasy. For library e-books, OverDrive is the app of choice. It lets you borrow e-books from your local library at no charge. You simply enter your library-card information. You have to wait for a digital copy of the book to become available — just as you must sometimes wait for the physical copies — but you can’t quibble with the cost. OverDrive is available on Apple, Android and Windows devices, as well as the Kindle and the Nook.

Hayley Tsukayama is a technology reporter at The Washington Post.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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