If there’s one place (at least) where real, bricks and mortar bookshops have a distinct edge on online bookstores, it has got to be in the browsing area.
There is nothing like a good, real bookshop where you can pick up the books, riffle through the pages, read a few pages from throughout the book to check it maintains its standard throughout and just generally come across the unexpected – the book you end up buying that you didn’t go into the shop to buy.
Even the best online book sites don’t have a great browsing set-up. They might be great if you know exactly what you want but if you just want to have a look around, then you have to shuffle through endless general categories and it’s often a very boring business where you never find something unexpected.
However, online ebook subscription service Scribd is trying to improve the browsing experience on its site, as well it might, as, after all, subscriptions are really about browsing backlists.
They’ve certainly made an effort to improve things, with a redesigned category system, so you can look through wide areas such as Fiction & Literature or History or drill into niches such as Space Operas or Biographies of Outlaws.
That’s a start, although it’s not much different from online retailers, such as Amazon, where you can do similar things, but Scribd has also boosted its curation so they are putting together collections of, say, Secret History, a collection of true stories about spies, codebreaker, and secret projects, or Behind the Scenes, books about films and TV shows. plus the firm is getting in outside epecrts to give their selections, including best-selling romance author Maya Rodale and New York Times reporter Juliet Macur.
On the new Scribd site, a general category such as Science Fiction will then open out into a range of more specialised categories.
Thousands of new categories created
Scribd says it has created thousands of its own categories, while, by comparison, the BISAC list of categories use throughout the bookselling and publishing industries has only 1,800 categories.
The Scribd Selects page features some of the site’s favourite collections and books, with personal notes, while Top Books, follows best-sellers, award-winners, and books trending on Scribd. Bricks and mortar stores, of course, often have a section listing staff favourites, plus best-sellers and new fiction and non-fiction.
Scribd claims this is just the beginning and says it will be introducing the new browsing experience on mobile in the near future, which is obviously a good plan as much of their business must be done through mobile devices such as Kindle Fires and iPads.
The firm says the new browsing structure combines human and algorithmic book recommendations and Scribd co-founder Jared Friedman says the company is putting an emphasis on book discovery because of the unique characteristics of digital subscriptions.
He says: “Making books free to read creates new consumer behavior. We see an opportunity to take book discovery to a new level. When people go to a physical bookstore they usually know what they want, on Scribd, people discover books they didn’t know about before, and read them.
I am a Scribd subscriber and enjoy using the service as you do find books that you weren’t necessarily searching for in the first place. The new browsing set-up certainly adds to the service, although I’ll have to use it for a few weeks to give any sort of valid judgement. I don’t think it’s anywhere near the experience of looking around a good bookstore in the real world but it’s a good start.
However, one area where Scribd does fall down at present is in the performance of its app, at least on a Kindle Fire, which is what I use. It’s not unworkable by any means, but it is slow(ish) and reading books can be annoying as there is a judder between turning pages, it’s definitely not the fast, smooth experience we’ve become used to when reading Kindle ebooks.
The Scribd app also only allows the choice of two typefaces, which aren’t even named typefaces, but just Sans-serif and Serif. They could also do with a new logo. I’m always mistaking Scribd’s S Logo for Safari (foolishly, I know, as the Safari logo is a compass) or Sigil (which is similar) or Scrivener (also similar).
Over 500,000 ebooks are now available on Scribd and the company has recently added some prestigious publishers. including Simon & Schuster and National Geographic, Princeton University Press, and Legend Press. The firm says it’s adding around one publisher a day at the moment.