Bookworms get unlimited access to books through apps

AMSTERDAM - Film and television fans use apps to view their favourite movies and shows and now readers can have similar access to an unlimited digital library.

For a monthly fee of about US$10 (S$12.50), Oyster and Scribd will allow bookworms to instantly browse and read ebooks through smartphone and tablet apps and to download them for offline reading.

"We see ourselves as the world's digital library. You can read whatever you want without having to make a payment every time you read," said Trip Adler, the co-founder and CEO of Scribd, based in San Francisco.

Eric Stromberg, the head of New-York based Oyster, said part of the appeal is being able to digitally browse through books as readers do in a bookstore or library.

"With books there is a strong precedence for people enjoying the browsing experience," Stromberg said. "When you go into bookstore you might browse 10 pages before committing to read all the way through. We're trying to replicate that experience."

Oyster is available for iPad and iPhone in the United States, and readers worldwide can get Scribd on iOS, Android and the web. Both apps offer one-month free trials.

The apps also give recommendations for books based on reading habits and connect with social media apps such as Facebook to show which books friends are reading and their ratings.

HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin and Coach House are among hundreds of publishers that have teamed up with companies to make their titles available on apps.

Stromberg said the appeal for publishers is that the apps lower the barriers to starting a new book.

"We're getting people to read more books and engage with books they might not otherwise have read," he said. "It's about all those other books you're sampling. The question we always ask people is, 'How many books have you heard about and didn't pick up?'"

The apps face competition from Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which has more than 350,000 titles. Kindle device owners in the United States and other countries can access the library with an Amazon Prime subscription that costs about $79 a year.

More libraries also are allowing people to borrow ebooks for free.

Despite the increasingly easy access to ebooks, Stromberg and Adler believe they will not replace printed books.

"I still love buying print books. With certain books I might read print and might read ebooks for the others and that's really representative of how a lot (of people) like to read," Stromberg said. "I see a future where it's not mutually exclusive."

Adler also doubts there will ever be a complete switch to ebooks.

"Even CDs and records are coming back," he said.