Entertainment is fast becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Call it the Netflix effect, as a growing number of companies are borrowing that successful streaming provider’s model for movie and TV show content — offering hundreds or thousands of titles on demand for a monthly subscription fee — and adapting it to other forms of media, including music, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, comics and audiobooks.
For newspapers, there’s Newspaper Direct, which offers digital versions of thousands of papers and magazines. Last March, Marvel Comics launched its all-you-can-read Unlimited service. Two weeks ago, San Francisco-based Scribd launched a similar service featuring thousands of books from HarperCollins back catalogue. And this week, Rogers launches Next Issue Canada, a service that features all of its consumer publications along with more than 100 titles from the biggest U.S. publishers.
Most of these services are colloquially being dubbed a Netflix for that media, even if they don’t quite offer everything that company does as they enter the subscription-based on-demand world.
“It’s already worked quite well for video and music and magazines, and I don’t see this shouldn’t happen for books too,” said Trip Adler, Scribd’s CEO. “We’re surprised that it hasn’t already happened for books.”
Burlington-based Audiobooks.com has also dived in, billing itself as the only service in the world that lets you stream audiobooks to mobile devices.
“To my knowledge, there isn’t anyone else out there. We’re kind of paving the way here,” says Ian Small, Audiobooks.com president. “In the publishing industry, specifically the audiobook space, there isn’t necessary too much groundbreaking going on, so that’s where we think there is a competitive advantage.”
The site’s subscription plan costs $14.95 for one book a month, with each additional book costing $10 each. The company experimented with an unlimited model, but found that most consumers only listened to one or two audio books a month, since a typical audiobook is at least 10 hours long.
Here is a rundown of pros and cons of content streaming services.
What it is: The best-known streaming service, featuring thousands of movies and TV shows. It used to primarily offer older shows and movies, but has embarked on making its own series, recently winning its first Emmy for House of Cards.
Cost: $7.99 a month, with the first month free as a trial period.
Pros: There are thousands of movies, and the service is improving by bringing its instant queue feature to Canada and more HD offerings. There is also a hub for children’s content. Its original content strategy has been working and so far has been of high quality, including House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Entire seasons are put up at once, encouraging binge viewing. No commercials ever.
Cons: Many have criticized the selection, often finding the Canadian version lacking compared to the U.S., which has a more comprehensive library. As well, some series or movies disappear without notice.
Competitors: There are many players in the field, and rumours of more coming. Two of the biggest are Hulu and Amazon Prime, but they are U.S. only. There’s Vidéotron in Quebec, and Cineplex.com has its own service. Sony has Crackle, which is free, and is also creating its own shows, like the recently launched Cleaners. Fandor.com features independent films.
What it is: A music streaming service with more than 20 millions songs.
Cost: $4.99 for unlimited web streaming. $9.99 for unlimited web and mobile streaming. It has a free trial period, and recently gave unlimited access to its genre-based music stations.
Pros: Very easy to use with an excellent library of music, and is particularly good with new releases and lesser known bands. Very slick interface, which a New York Times reporter compared favourably to Spotify.
Cons: Not as well known as Spotify, which is one of those services that Canadians tend to lament isn’t available here.
Competitors: Also a very crowded market, including players like Deezer, Slacker, rara.com, Xbox Music and HMV’s the Vault. Songza features curated playlists, as opposed to albums, but is free. iTunes Radio has launched in the U.S. and is rumoured to arrive here in 2014.
What it is: Over 40,000 audio books available to stream or download to your device.
Cost: $14.95 for one book a month, with each additional book costing $10.
Pros: Most books have a have a short preview and then there’s a save function if you would like to continue, so you get a taste before committing.
Cons: It is a good-sized library, but you still may not be able to find something you really want. It’s not an unlimited subscription model. The iOS app is pretty good, but could be more intuitive. I didn’t realize I had to listen to the preview, and then save the book to my smartphone.
Competitors: iTunes sells audiobooks, but the big one is Audible.com. Owned by Amazon, it offers a $14.99 membership for a single audio book a month or a la carte purchases. Neither Audible nor iTunes offer streaming yet.
What it is: An all-you-can-read digital book service with thousands of titles from the HarperCollins back catalogue.
Cost: $8.99 per month, with the first month free to try.
Pros: It has a short survey at sign-up that tries to recommend books for you. Thousands of books available. It saves your place in the book as you move between devices. Easy-to-use app could be very good for power readers.
Cons: Only books released before July 2012 are available, with more recent bestsellers available on a purchase basis. HarperCollins’ back catalogue is 8 to 10 per cent of the American book market, but there are four other major publishers, so the selection could be better. It also does not support “e-ink” e-readers like the basic Kindle and Kobo models, which is a large part of the e-book market.
Competitors: It’s the first player to bring streaming to the market, but its competitors are all other e-book sellers that sell on a per-book basis.
What it is: Available in the U.S. since 2009, Rogers Media has bought a stake in the company, finally bringing it to Canada. Rogers’ publications including Chatelaine and Maclean’s will be joining the more than 100 U.S. magazines that are available on tablets and computers. It launches Oct. 15 for Rogers customers, who can try it free for 60 days, then Dec. 15 for everyone else.
Cost: $10 for all the monthly magazines. $14.99 if you want to include weeklies.
Pros: Very much a print-based model, what you see on your tablet is everything in the print magazine, including ads. It has an amazing selection of some of the top magazines including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated and many more. Provides good access to a title’s back issues, and you can set it to automatically download the latest issue. Seems like a good value proposition, especially if you’re used to paying for individual subscriptions to three or four magazines.
Cons: Open only to huge publishers who are all part owners in the company, which is fine, but if you subscribe to Toronto Life or anything from smaller Canadian publishers, be aware it won’t be there. While magazines download onto the device, some pages also take up to five seconds to load, which is never a problem with paper.
Competitors: Most magazines have stand-alone apps for subscribers that often feature extra content, and of course, print subscriptions.