Yesterday (July 13th, 2020) NetGalley launched their Shelf App – their “first mobile app, available for free on both iOS and Android devices.” I was excited to see the announcement, and downloaded the app right away. The following are my first impressions of this new way to access NetGalley.
If you are unfamiliar with NetGalley you can find everything you need to know about it here.
To be brief and straightforward, I’m overall disappointed with the app. The caveat to this is that most of my disappointment is due to my own expectations of how I wanted the app to function. I explain these expectations – and why I will still use the app – below (skip down to OTHER/FINAL THOUGHTS if you only want those), but first I want to identify how NetGalley describes the app. These quotes come from their Twitter announcement, which you can read here in full.
- “This app makes it easier than ever for NetGalley members to start reading or listening to books they’ve been approved to access.”
- “The NetGalley Shelf app is our recommended way to read, and the exclusive way to listen to audiobooks made available on NetGalley.” Yes, audiobooks were added to the NetGalley catalog along with the introduction of the app! Although the selection is quite limited…hopefully as the audiobook program ages the selection will become wider.
- “How does the NetGalley Shelf app work? As long as the publisher has enabled the app as a Reading Option for their books, those will automatically appear in approved members’ NetGalley Shelf app. You won’t need to press the Download button on the NetGalley website!”
There is a “Learn More” page linked in one of NetGalley’s tweets, but it basically just reiterates what they say in the thread on Twitter. Typically when I visit a “Learn More” page I want to learn more, but here I go launching into my opinions, so let’s add a header to this blog post and get on with my first impressions with the NetGalley Shelf App.
Just kidding, one more thing: this post is long but that does not mean the Shelf App is complicated; it’s quite the opposite. I just wanted to make sure I was thorough with my impressions and with my thoughts on as many of the functions/features as possible.
The following is based on my device (Samsung Galaxy S9) and location (USA).
The app was easy to download and took barely any time to do so. For me, a reader in the US. I have seen a few responses on Twitter from international readers who could not find the app on their iOS or Android devices, and when logging onto the German, French, and Japanese versions of the NetGalley website, searching for audiobooks is not an option, so based on that it unfortunately looks like this is a US or UK only app (audiobooks can only be listened to through the app). If you have more information about this, please let me know!
The app user guide is quite helpful. This appears immediately when you log in, and the topics and functions of the app are nicely laid out.
Downloading books from my shelf takes no time at all. Audiobooks (or at least the one I downloaded to test the function, The Shadows by Alex North) take a little longer, but no more than 30 seconds. And when I chose a “Listen Now” audiobook on the website, it appeared instantly/right away on the app – so there doesn’t seem to be a lag.
No more Kindle app! Books can be downloaded right to the app/via the app – making a reader app or the Kindle app unnecessary. I’m not sure how many other people read their ebooks like I do, but I use the Kindle app on my Samsung phone solely for my NetGalley books, and I am ecstatic that I won’t have to anymore. The downside: there doesn’t seem to be an option to highlight anything when reading in the NetGalley app, and although pages can be bookmarked, there isn’t an option to add notes to those bookmarks. I do give NetGalley props for offering options to alter the font, the font size, and the background color of the pages.
Audiobooks also only have a “bookmark” option – no note-taking ability. And phone notifications don’t seem to interrupt the narrations, which is a plus for me. I did see (via Twitter) that some users could not let their phone/device screen go black/fall asleep without the audiobook stopping, but I did not experience that so hopefully if you do, it’s just a short-lived glitch. (Here is the form to submit to NetGalley if you are experiencing any problems)
The license expiration for each book is displayed in a gray box on the book cover in your app library. This makes it quite easy to keep track of how much longer you have access to the book for within the app (determined by the publisher). Take note – this is different than the NetGalley archive date, which can only be seen on the website. From the app user guide: “Most licenses last for 55 days, and can be renewed at any time before the book is archived in NetGalley.” There are instructions in the app user guide for renewing the license within the app, so if there are more than 55 days before the archive date, you can still have access to the book through the app.
I was hoping this would “replace” the need to log onto the NetGalley website, but that is not the case. Only the books already on “Your Shelf” are visible, so there isn’t an option to view your feedback history like you can on the website, and you cannot search for more titles to request. Basically, you will still need to access the NetGalley website in order to request more books or submit feedback.
Overall, the fact that the NetGalley Shelf App does not function like the website is pretty disappointing. The ability to read approved books right from the app is excellent and convenient, but it’s sort of inconvenient to have to go to the website to do everything else. However, this disappointment is mostly due to the expectations/wants I had for the functionality, because I don’t think that NetGalley’s announcement/description of the app is misleading; they said very clearly that the app’s purpose is to make “it easier than ever for NetGalley members to start reading or listening to books they’ve been approved to access.” They never promised to make it more than that.
To continue, I don’t fully know the parameters necessary to have NetGalley’s entire library uploaded to the app; there might be some legal/copyright/other restrictions that does prevents them from adding the “Search for Titles” functionality. And based on NetGalley’s announcement, the book publishers are the ones who decide whether or not the book can be read via the app (see the third bullet point above or this tweet), so it will be interesting to see if any requester/reader comes across a title that cannot be accessed via the app.
I feel like I’ve gone around and around the big question of whether or not the app is worth it. As a reader who uses their phone + the Kindle app to read NetGalley approvals, it absolutely is. I no longer have to use an alternative app to read my ebooks (granted the publishers allow their books to be accessed on it), and although I did enjoy the highlighting and note-taking features in the Kindle app, the bookmark function will work for me, and I can finally fill one of my physical notebooks with book notes. At this time it doesn’t look like I’ll be listening to any audiobooks (other than the one I downloaded to test for this blog post), because none that are available really interest me. But again, this may change depending on how the audiobook selection expands over time.
There are definitely more elements I wish the app had (as I’ve mentioned above) and the issues with device glitches or any issues with device compatibility, plus the lack of international support is really something NetGalley should consider working on (if and however possible), both on the website side and clearly on the app side. Ultimately, this app is less than a day old and again, the NetGalley team delivered what they intended to in terms of functionality, so glitches and snags can be expected as much as potential improvements can be noted.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that I understand my opinion comes from a privileged position, because the app is available in my country and it works on the device I use for ebooks. I can’t give any testimony beyond either of those things, but I certainly am interested in knowing what you think about the app – is it worth it to you? Is it compatible with your device(s)? Are you just going to continue downloading the ebooks the way you always have? Let’s chat below.