Safari Books Online Review

Safari Books OnlineOnline and digital readers are becoming the standard for recreational and academic communication of the written language. Largely due to the convenience and how quickly available it is. If you have a digital reader and you identify a book you want, then in literally seconds, you can have it available to you.

Studies have shown, that when reading recreationally, the reader retains more information on the plot and emotional ties of the characters using paper versus the digital reader. Many believe it’s because of the haptic feedback of the turning of a page, or the “feeling” of accomplishment when you can feel one side of the book getting smaller than the other. Very much like the same feeling you get when you physically cross out a task on paper. It’s far more satisfying than just clicking a checkmark.

For me, the same can be said about academic books. When I am studying, or trying to really understand a technical topic, the physical paper book is far more efficient for me. When I highlight a few sentences or write in the margins of the book, it’s reinforcing in my mind what I just read, making it easier to retain. But, paper-based books are harder to come by, and packing more than one in your bag sets you up for a career in body-building. I don’t mean “harder to come by” in the sense that they are not out there, they just are not as available as their digital forms. So, I try to compromise and identify how I can do the same thing with paper as I can with digital.

When using Kindle or iBooks, you have the ability to highlight text. With GoodReader, you can also annotate and comment. Well, that’s great for the .mobi, .epub, and .pdf formats of the internet. But, you still have to buy the book first. What if it’s not a good author, or you later find out it doesn’t really give you what you need? For me, that’s where Safari Books Online comes in. In a subscription, I literally have access to every book I’ve wanted to study or learn from in a professional context.

I’ve been using Safari Books Online for almost 3 years now. The first 2 years were perfect for me. They gave me the ability to download the books in my preferred formats. BEAUTEOUS! That’s everything I ever wanted. Find a book, read the first few chapters, glance the other chapters, then download into my favorite e-reader. That was great until finally they stopped giving me tokens. Game changer. Time to review.

After using Safari Books Online without tokens for 6 months now, I have come to learn one thing: “It’s an expensive way to preview books”. What do I mean by that? Well, I still need the highlighting and the note taking aspect of my books. I still need the ability to take all my highlights and notes with me for review later. SBO does not give me that, so I resorted back to purchasing my books again, but this time, more efficiently.  Why ‘efficiently’?  Well, using SBO, I can identify if I truly want to get the book.  If it’s easy to read, understandable, and covers the content I’m looking for, then I buy it.  At some point, I have to decide whether the extra costs of SBO offsets my wasted money spent on books I didn’t need. Well, it didn’t, and I hit that point late last year.

In an effort to save some money, I decided that I should cancel my team’s enterprise account and use that budgeted money into buying books. The money I was spending for my team would pay for almost three dozen books (averaging $60) for the year. But, as I made the twitter announcement a few days ago, @Northlandboy told me of a new service that SBO created but did not make it automatic for me. That’s the Safari Queue app.  Thanks Lindsay.

Screenshot 2015-01-22 13.33.41

Below I will summarize my thoughts on the old vs new service. Before I do, I’ll tell you what I know. They announced it in a blog post last summer, basically telling everyone about the new branding, the look-and-feel, and features. But, I don’t follow their blog and I wasn’t aware of this.  So, I created a trial account and started checking it out.

Safari Books Online New UI

Overall, it’s a great step in the right direction. Through the browser, you can highlight and take notes. Nice. I’m impressed already. What can I do on my mobile? Well, the IOS version is out, so you can download to your iPhone,iPad… but nothing yet for the Android (they say it was coming soon 6 months ago 2 months ago). I checked today, but still don’t see it on Google Play.

Positives first. Safari Queue on your mobile device has no restrictions on your offline storage (other than free space), VS the original SBO app, which limited you to 3 books. Also, you can download the videos available to you as well. Nice. The other positive is that you can highlight, and it will sync to the web. When clicking on the highlights section, you can see all of your notes and highlights grouped by the book. Another good move. Plus, if you are a social butterfly, you can share your links, notes and highlights to social networks (email, G+, Twitter, Facebook).

Negatives next. Using your mobile device, you can’t add notes. You can highlight, but you can only add notes using the web (if there is a way, it’s not intuitive enough for this basic author to see).  Also, In order for you to add a book to your mobile device, you must first add it to your “Queue” via the web interface. Not really a terrible thing, but just inconvenient. Most people expect a book navigator in their reader. It also seems not every book available on SBO is available in Safari Queue. Strange.

Screenshot 2015-01-22 13.30.41

I was adding that you cannot take your notes with you, as there is a lack of export option for your notes and highlights.  I recommended to Safari that it would be great if we could export the highlights and notes by book for us to take with us.  Liza Daly, Safari CTO, responded to me that she has put in a request to do just that.  Specifically, she says:  “I believe everyone’s data is their own and definitely not our intention to keep customers from taking that with them. It just honestly hasn’t been a common request.“.  Fair enough.  Maybe it’s just me?  Either that, or there are others out there not as outspoken?

Still not sure what I will decide, but it certainly looks like Safari Queue is a step in the right direction.  Get a trial and test it out for yourself.  I am eerie about the book selection, though.  I have no idea why the selections would be different.  I’ve checked a few books that I”m currently reading now, and out of the 3, 2 of them are available for Safari Queue (Though, I’ll admit that one that is missing is probably not in very high demand).

It certainly is confusing, why Safari created the two services separate.  They tried to explain it in the referenced blog post, but I still didn’t really understand it.  Maybe it’s so that people who don’t like change, won’t complain?  But, if that’s the case, then why two separate libraries where some exists in one and not the other?  Just something to ponder, I guess.


UPDATE: 1/23/15:  The Google Play app for Android was not announced 6 months ago.  Work started and announced November 2014, which was only 2-1/2 months ago.

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  • Sean Yo

    Any thoughts on Safari Queue these days? I’m especially interested in taking my highlights and notes with me. Love your review and would love to find out what you’re doing these days for technical ebooks

  • centdian

    You can use allavsoft to download Safaribooksonline Video Courses to MP4, TS, AVI, MPG on Mac or Windows