Scribd’s (not so) unlimited plan

Note: I originally published this on Medium on Sep 10, 2018.

As a voracious consumer of audiobooks, I was excited to try Scribd’s new “Unlimited Subscription” program introduced in early 2018. For $8.99/month, they give you access to an “unlimited* number of books and audiobooks”. Contrast this to Audible’s 1-credit per month at $14.95/month and this looks like an incredible deal.

But unlimited doesn’t literally mean unlimited. Not like, say, how Netflix or Spotify mean unlimited. Notice the asterisk after “unlimited”? The bottom of the page just says “* For more information, visit our FAQ. You can read our updated terms of service here.” There are limits, you will run into them, and if you don’t know what’s going on, you will get as confused and frustrated as I did.

So here’s what you need to know: Think of Scribd’s catalog as being split into free and premium content. As long as you’re a subscriber, you get access to all the free content you want. This is the good news. The bad news is these are generally the not-so-popular books. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like. But there’s more bad news: Scribd doesn’t show you if the book is in the free or premium group. With each new book, you risk hitting the limit.

How many premium books can you get per month? I’m honestly not sure as reports on social media vary — I personally hit the limit with three books, but I don’t know how many of those were free versus premium. Some people have reported hitting the limit after just one book! Scribd won’t say how any of this works, so we’re left guessing. The point is, even if the limit is three books, that’s far from “unlimited”.

When you reach the limit, all the premium content gets tagged with an “Available Soon” label, with some future reset date, which is always a month or less away. Since most of the content is premium, this change is very noticeable. Imagine going on Netflix and having some 80% of shows unavailable to watch for a week or two — or more!

So what can you do? Don’t download an audiobook until you’ve listened to enough of it that you’re committed to finishing it, because downloading counts as listening to the whole book.

Also, start each cycle with the book you’re most excited about because each book could be your last.

What are your thoughts about all this?