Opinion : Scribd And Its ‘Unlimited’ Service

Hi, Nerdies!

Today, I’d like to discuss about a phone application which I’ve been using to read for almost two years now. It’s called Scribd, and it’s a subscription-based library of e-books and audiobooks. This is how it works. Once you pay a certain amount of subscription fee, you’re supposed to get unlimited access to all books that Scribd provides. It kinda works like how Netflix does.

Except, it’s not really unlimited. I’ll explain more in a bit. But basically, already, many people are furious about this. In my case, I won’t lie and say that I haven’t experienced the limitation that Scribd actually applies for its readers. But I am in a slightly different situation than those who are clearly infuriated by Scribd’s unforthcoming attitude.

So today, I am not going to feed into the rage, I am just going to talk about Scribd from a little bit different perspective.

A Little Backstory

Some of you might know, but most of you probably don’t, I am from Indonesia. A thirld world country that was just born in 1945. Compared to developed countries that have very long histories of civilization such as UK and US, my country is just an embryo. An embryo that has only started to learn to actually read, I might say, since later than 1945. Sure, some people who later on became Indonesians read before that, but that was more a sporadic act than anything close to literary movement.  

People in UK and US have done prolific writing and reading for hundreds and hundreds of years. You guys have gotten plentiful time to be voracious readers and amazing writers that you are today, but this is far from our situation in developing countries. A bit of our short history, we were under Netherlands invasion for 350 years before we became an independent country. Our first schools were established by Netherlands, filled with curriculums that the Dutch had assembled not for us, but for their political sake. We, by our definition, didn’t have our own literary world, until the year we became a state, at least.

That brings us to our situation today. Books are still luxury in most parts of Indonesia nowadays. There are still millions of people who are illiterate here. And because even until today, literature is not yet uniquitous, as how it goes with anything else, everything about it becomes expensive. It explains so much why here, books are so pricey despite the narrowness of the range of selection, and when one wants to access a wider array of books like attempting to acquire books from, say, US or UK, it gets even more pricier.

Now, what do all these have to do with Scribd?

First, let me make myself clear, I am by no means condoning the act of dishonesty that Scribd has done by not laying it out straight that their service is in fact limited. This is what basically happens. Readers will find books they’ve planned to read go unavailable after they’ve finished reading a number of books, be it e-books or audiobooks. Learning from my own experience, the limit number is tighter for audiobooks. You’d always have books to read still, just not the popular books that you’ve put in your TBR list. 

And this is what I’ve learned from reading on Scribd for quite sometime. Books that will never go unavailable are either unpopular books or old time books. This is surely a problem for people in a country where they can read a freshly published novel at anytime, again, like in UK and US. But, here? Even the outdated books are gems to us. If I sounded pathetic, it’s because the disparity of living condition in winning nations and losing nations is, that big. We’ve never won any war, therefore we’re supposed to read the winners’ crumbles. And that’s totally fine, because that’s just how it works in this world. Believe me, I am not whining, I am just merely stating facts.

Scribd has helped me big time to gain access to many books at an affordable price. In comparison, reading on Kindle would cost me roughly 10USD for each book. And here in Indonesia, most of us only get paid 185USD per month (based on CEIC data). So, you can imagine how expensive a 10 dollar book is for us Indonesians. And it’s even more costly to import a paperback from overseas. I am fortunate enough not to be a part of this financial widest curve. I can safely say that I am privileged enough to be able to afford Scribd subscription at slightly less than 9USD per month. But I am not that far from the average economy level, therefore Kindle books and physical books are still out of my financial reach.

In my most leisure months, I can read up to 10 books each month, and with Scribd, I only pay less than 1USD per book. All this said, it’s not that I don’t long for new books. I am always eager to read any much anticipated new book that Scribd puts in its recommendations. But if I couldn’t read that for now, and if I had to read something older first, even if it’s far from what I want, Scribd still has helped me tremendously as an international reader.

So I guess, what I am trying to say is, considering the number of international readers all over the world, even with its untruthfulness, Scribd is still not that bad. 

And just in case it’s not super clear already. No one has paid me to write this.

Instagram : @rubbish.talk


  1. I was unfamiliar with Scribd and “the controversy” until this post, but your words are wise: You may not always get exactly what you want, but at least getting something is better than getting nothing…

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your point of view. Coming from a situation where buying books is a slightly expensive affair, the fact that I get to read even the less popular books is something I value…if anything, I think it introduces me to new writers and genres as well, and that’s great in itself.
    Additionally, loved learning more about Indonesia through your post ❣️

  3. I read somewhere that Scribd would be offering free “unlimited” subscription during the month of April as part of their fight for the coronavirus so people have something to do during lockdown and self-isolation and thought yep maybe this might be the time I finally try it out for myself.
    For you see I can’t afford the regular monthly… It’s a costly affair to get the foreign currency to pay and banks generally do not change local currency into USD so one might as well forget about having a visa or MasterCard unless it’s those prepaid cards which you have to Prefund with hard USD cash at the bank.

    Which brings me to the other point where I tried to join the free Scribd service then it asked me for my visa or MasterCard card details… I sighed and closed the page I don’t have one of those cards and our local ones only work “locally”

    Anyhow thanks for this post it does make me feel like I am not missing too much by not having Scribd since I sometimes see popular books being listed as available on Scribd and wishing one day yep when I get my subscription I will read all of you


      1. Hahaha let’s see….
        From the library which really hasn’t gotten any books since independence 40 years ago…
        From book shops which sell ridiculously priced books. A local author complained about how these book merchants were ripping people off, her book was more expensive in her home country than in international books at $50 USD who would buy it? No wonder there’s a low reading culture when you have to make a choice between buying food and a book, the choice is obvious….
        From street merchants who sell reasonably priced books on street corners, but usually these are second hand books and operate on a more like swap and top basis you exchange a book you have for another for a fee…
        From friends, who already have the books.

  4. Agree with the view. Though not unlimited… there’s still so much to read. And though we’re in a better position in terms of accessibility of books, I still use scribd since it’s suggestions on similar topics works… sometimes. For example I read a platoon of World War II books right after tattooist of auschwitz.

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