Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My experiences using e-book/audio book platforms and subscription services

I took some time over the summer to experiment and explore a number of online e-book and audio subscription services. In addition, at the time I began my exploration, an article emailed to me from my network entitled "What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative" (see Randall, 2014) also inspired me to think more about my experiment. The result is this preliminary report on my experiences using three e-book/audio book platforms or subscription services: Reading Rainbow, OverDrive and Audible. The limitation, I have only attempted to use these platforms on one device, the iPad.
  • Reading Rainbow app for iOS - free version
  • OverDrive - free through my public library
  • Amazon's Audible - 30-day trial version

I begin with the Reading Rainbow App downloaded from the App Store. Reading Rainbow was a television program when I was a kid, and now that I am a parent with girls that like to read, I decided to check out this app. Rather than being an app that talk about books and featured children performing reading, the app was essentially a "Library of Children's Books, Kids Videos & Educational Games" (See the i-Tunes review). After the long introductory video, the app visually organizes books by islands of interest (located in the sky) with interesting titles such as "the Animal Kingdom", "Genius Academy" and "Action Adventure & Magical Tales". The child can then navigate to an island of interest and access books and educational videos in that genre or topical island. In addition, the readers in the free version can check out up to five e-books into their virtual backpack. The reading experience is not only one where narration is provided, but to some extent, limited interactivity is built into the picture books, where readers can touch the page and experience certain (motion and sound) effects.

While Reading Rainbow was a hit with my first born who wanted me to subscribe so that she could access more books and return the books she had already read, I could not bring myself to do so, knowing that I had a free public library 15 minutes away from where I lived. Yet, considering that we had limited time to spend at the library each week borrowing books and that my first born devoured the books borrowed within 2 days, it seemed that access to e-books would perhaps be a better option for such a voracious reader. This brings me to the free library alternative, OverDrive.

In 2012, I blogged about my first experience using OverDrive (See that blog post here). However, at that time, I used OverDrive, I did so using the laptop. This time however, I used OverDrive with the iPad, and I must say, OverDrive is better used with iPad than a laptop. Just the portability alone and the fact that you can curl up into a chair without something warm or hot (especially in the summer) in your lap makes the iPad or tablet computer a better option for reading e-books or listening to audio books versus the laptop.

That said, to get started, you have to download the app and get your library card in hand. (Setting-up can be quite a daunting process compared to Reading Rainbow's app). Once you are set up and learn your way around the app and the library's website, you are good to go. OverDrive is definitely not as intuitive and easy as ReadingRainbow, where you can just navigate to islands of interest. Rather, navigation here requires browsing images of book covers or tapping on hyperlinks organized by genre. However, the plus side is that you can search for what you want (whereas Reading Rainbow forces you to just explore what they have available). While OverDrive was great for downloading both e-books and audio books, I do not think it sparked the enthusiasm of my firstborn as much as Reading Rainbow. Nonetheless, my firstborn enjoyed listening to the audio books and hopefully learned some new words and how they are pronounced or sound, compared to just reading the text by herself.

Another thing about OverDrive is that the collection is limited. For one reason or the other, the selection of books was particularly limiting for my peculiar interest in Judeo-Christian theology. I found few books (7 from four authors) discussing Jesus. On the other hand, I could not access the Word of Promise audio Bible that I had previously borrowed in CD-form from the same public library and had to settle for a less dramatic King James version. As such, I conclude that OverDrive perhaps may not be a platform to go for a specific hobby-related interest, but more what is the popular interest. Another down side to this, is that you only get 14 days to listen to or read the books borrowed. In addition, some books that you may be interested in may have to be placed on hold as someone else is currently reading or using the file. So you might have a queue waiting for an e-book or audio book to become available.

That brings me to Audible. Audible requires setting up an account with Amazon or signing into your existing account with Amazon. That said, I was offered a 30 day trial version of the service, enabling me to download the app and experience it. It is from this app that I was able to access the Word of Promise audio Bible, which I downloaded and was able to listen to even without Internet Access. The strange thing about this was that my CD player and radio died 2 days after I downloaded the app (must have been jealous).

Compared to OverDrive, Audible seemingly offers a greater variety of books for one's peculiar hobby-related interest. Further, you do not have to wait in a queue for a popular book. You can essentially get any book that you want for either a monthly or annual fee. Randal (2014) mentions that Kindle Unlimited charges $9.99 a month, but the fee for subscription to Audible is 14.95 per month. With this price, I will just stick it out at OverDrive and perhaps just buy the e-book that I really want that the library does not provide access to.

Now listening to audio books is like listening to the radio. When I was a child, there used to be radio dramas. And listening to audio books, (especially fictional ones) or those that employ dramaturgical or theatrical elements, reminded me of those days when I'd listen to radio dramas. Yet, I am a more visual person, and eventually tune out audio as background noise (apart from the interesting fiction books like the ones my firstborn were listening to). Further, I can only listen to one book at a time and could not fathom downloading a new audio book daily, weekly or monthly. What this means is that I would have to download books that I'd want to hear for a year, and then listen to each book until it is completed, before going on to the next book. As such, I don't think paying $14.95 per month is justified for listening to audio books, just the same way that I am unaccustomed for paying to listen to radio stations with their annoying ads.

That said, I end my report on my experiences here. Up next (in the future) is my report on the experience using Google Play as a platform for accessing e-books.


Randall, T. (2014, July 31). What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative. Bloomberg Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-31/what-s-better-than-kindle-unlimited-for-120-a-year-this-free-alternative.html

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