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Reading goes high tech

Book subscription services, speed-reading apps are changing the way we read

Created date

August 22nd, 2014
book subscription services and apps
book subscription services and apps

Hollywood blockbusters are as close as the phone in your pocket and volumes of books are just as accessible. You’re no doubt acquainted with services like Netflix and Hulu that provide online access to a wide array of films and television programs in exchange for a monthly fee. Now, booklovers have a similar opportunity to pay a fee for unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of books. 

These e-book subscriptions typically cost around $10 a month. There’s Oyster (, Scribd (, and Amazon’s entry into the book subscription service called Kindle Unlimited ( There are some slight price differences and the selection varies with each service, but they are fundamentally the same. E-books are delivered wirelessly to your e-reader (like a Kindle), tablet (such as an iPad), a smartphone, or a computer. Oyster and Scribd are not compatible with dedicated e-readers like the Kindle Paperwhite or the original Kindle. They are compatible with Kindle Fire tablets.

Caveat on title selections 

In general, none of these book subscription services have the latest, hottest, bestsellers in their inventory, and there are some serious limitations when it comes to overall book selection. For example, Scribd gives you unlimited access to more than 400,000 titles for $8.99 a month and promotes its partnership with publisher Simon & Schuster on its home page. However, when you try to find one of the publishing house’s bestsellers, Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke, the search comes up empty. A search on Oyster for the bestseller The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness came up equally blank. 

Bookselling behemoth Amazon recently announced its own book subscription service called Kindle Unlimited. Not surprisingly, Kindle Unlimited has a much larger library of titles available; however, there is quite a bit of overlap with the free Kindle library that Amazon makes available to its Prime members. Kindle Unlimited does offer some popular favorites like the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, but again, the latest bestsellers are absent. 

The problem with all of these services is that the biggest publishers like Hatchette and Random House Penguin have yet to include their books. The other main drawback is that unlike a two- to three-hour film that can be watched in one night, books take time. Many people don’t read more than one book a month. With the cost of subscription services at roughly the same as a single e-book, it really only makes sense for people who read voraciously. It’s worth noting, however, that if there are multiple readers in your house, joining a subscription service may be worthwhile since you can store books on more than one device. 

Go to the library!

Most public library systems now have e-books available for loan, and like any public library book, these e-books are free and the selection is generally pretty good. It may be worth looking into your local library to see if it offers e-books for loan.

For avid readers who have a long list of books they want to catch up on, these services may be worthwhile. They may also have some value for fans of a particular genre. The key is to make a list of the books you’re interested in and do a search on the subscription service’s website to see how many of those books are offered. All three of these services have a 30-day trial period if you’re interested in testing them out.


Beyond access to content, the other big news for readers is the growing availability of speed-reading apps that can help you plow through a book in a fraction of the time it normally takes. Spritz, a new text streaming technology that comes already installed on the new Samsung phones, promises readers that they can finish a 233-page book in just 77 minutes using its program. The company plans on expanding its availability in the near future. 

Most speed-reading apps rely on a process called rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). One or two words flash on the screen at a time, so you read each word without having to move your eyes across the page. Cutting the time it takes the eye to move increases reading speed, and with a little practice, it’s not that difficult to master. Spritz expands on RSVP with something they call “Optimal Recognition Point,” which draws the eye’s focus with color. See a demonstration for yourself at

The bad news is that if you’re thinking of making the most of your subscription service by speed-reading, you may be disappointed to learn that the subscription services are not  yet compatible with Spritz. That is surely something the future holds.