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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Skoob a decent read

SingTel's new ebook store has a good range of global titles, but local content is limited
The Straits Times - December 3, 2011
By: Adeline Chia
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Skoob a decent read Skoob lacks the range of free book options but locally, it is the easiest option for ebooks. -- ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

For some time, ebooks have sung their siren song to me from their paperless shores. Too many friends have waxed lyrical about the advantages of these nifty little electronic tomes. They weigh nothing and you can pack as many as you want into your smartphone or tablet.

Still, I resisted. I may flirt with the odd literary application, such as the one by indie publisher McSweeney's, but I have never bought a single ebook. It is telling that when I type 'ebook' into my iPhone, it still autocorrects to 'ebola'.

But whether I like it or not, ebooks are riding the growth in portable reading devices. Cue the mushrooming of online bookstores selling ebooks, which are cheaper and environmentally friendlier than the paper ones.

Recently, telco SingTel has thrown its hat in the ring and launched a new ebook website and app called Skoob with more than 39,000 titles available for download. Once you have bought an ebook from www.skoob.com.sg, you can access it through five devices, such as your phone or laptop.

In terms of its range of international titles, Skoob fares surprisingly well. There are the requisite bestseller titles, including the newly released 1Q84 by the popular Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, as well as the mainstream war horses by John Grisham and Tom Clancy.

It also has some titles that are not available in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Examples include teen-fiction writer Meg Rosoff's new book, There Is No Dog, which is not yet stocked on the Kinokuniya bookshelves, or The Fish Can Sing, an obscure 1957 Icelandic novel I have been hunting for some time in local stores, in vain.

But local content is bleak and dominated by O-level revision guides and the lurid Mr Midnight series by James Lee. Good for swotting students and tweens with a taste for horror but not so good for those looking for serious local writing.

Still, revision and study guides have always had a robust market, as any local publisher knows, and Skoob has shrewdly decided that it will go big on education. More textbooks and study aids, and eventually assessment papers will be put up as ebooks. That may not be the classiest route, but it is probably the most lucrative one.

As ebooks go, Skoob's prices are predictably cheaper than print. Jonathan Franzen's bestseller Freedom, released last year, costs $8.10 on Skoob and $17.12 at Kinokuniya.

However, the price difference becomes less marked for new releases that tend to be discounted anyway at bookshops.

On Skoob, 1Q84 costs $14.41 for Volumes 1 and 2, and $12.60 for Volume 3. The entire book costs $27.01.

The price for a hardback at Kinokuniya is $31.17, just $4 more, but you get to keep a book you can smell and touch.

Over at iTunes store, the ebook costs US$14.99 (S$19.30). But for your savings, you need to go through a little more hassle. You need to register an account based in the United States and buy an iTunes card via Amazon before shopping on iTunes.

So much for the selection and prices of books. How does the Skoob app fare as an eReader?

The user interface is functional and reasonably easy to navigate, and does not come with any additional bells and whistles. You choose from five fonts, two text sizes (large or small) and the brightness of the background colour.

You can read only in portrait mode, and tapping on the right side of the screen takes you to the next page. Bookmarks can be added too.

I managed to get through the 1,000-page 1Q84 on my iPhone without going blind, so the minimalist design must have worked. Somewhat. You have to give some credit to the book: It was quite gripping too.

But Skoob could do with a little prettifying and additional features. Such as the option of having white text on black background, a pretty standard feature on other eReaders to help with reading in poor light.

Compared to other book apps, Skoob does not have an interactive element. For example, the Goodreads app allows readers to upload their ratings and reviews, which creates a greater sense of community. With Skoob, you are utterly alone.

It also lacks the range of free book options available on Stanza, which is still my favourite book app. Stanza links to different libraries of free works such as Project Gutenberg, a digital archive of 36,000 free books. In contrast, Skoob has only 24 free books, all of them classics.

Still, if you want to read books that are less than 50 years old, you need to pay, and locally, Skoob still seems to be the easiest option.

It is a decent service, but I am not pushing anyone down the stairs to order an ebook. There are minor cost savings but I am still an old-fashioned book hoarder. But ask me again when I am packing my books for my next holiday - it will probably be a different story.

 

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