May 18, 2009
Site Lets Writers Sell Digital Copies
By BRAD STONE
SAN FRANCISCO — Turning itself into a kind of electronic vanity publisher, Scribd, an Internet start-up here, will introduce on Monday a way for anyone to upload a document to the Web and charge for it.
The Scribd Web site is the most popular of several document-sharing sites that take a YouTube-like approach to text, letting people upload sample chapters of books, research reports, homework, recipes and the like. Users can read documents on the site, embed them in other sites and share links over social networks and e-mail.
In the new Scribd store, authors or publishers will be able to set their own price for their work and keep 80 percent of the revenue. They can also decide whether to encode their documents with security software that will prevent their texts from being downloaded or freely copied.
Authors can choose to publish their documents in unprotected PDFs, which would make them readable on the Amazon Kindle and most other mobile devices. Scribd also says it is readying an application for the iPhone from Apple and will introduce it next month.
Scribd hopes its more open and flexible system will give it a leg up on Amazon, which has become the largest player in the burgeoning market for e-books. Amazon sets the retail price for books in its Kindle store and keeps the majority of the revenue on some titles, which has publishers worried that Amazon is amassing too much control over the nascent market. Amazon also allows those books to be read only on its Kindle devices and in Kindle software on the iPhone.
“One reason publishers are excited to work with us is that they worry that publishing channels are contracting as Amazon and Google are gaining control over the e-book space,” said Jared Friedman, chief technology officer and a founder of Scribd.
But Scribd also has some hurdles to overcome itself. Though large publishing firms like Random House have experimented with the site, they also express frustration that copies of some works have been uploaded to Scribd without permission.
Trying to address the piracy problem, Scribd is building a database of copyrighted works and using it to filter its system. If a publisher participates in the Scribd store, its books will be added to that database, the company said.
So far, no major publishing houses have signed on to the store, though the company says it is talking to them. The independent publishers Lonely Planet, O’Reilly Media and Berrett-Koehler will add their entire catalogs.
The Scribd store will also give unpublished authors, or authors who are in a hurry, a well-trafficked Web forum on which to post their books, charge for them and see immediate results.
Kemble Scott, who has released a novel through a conventional publisher, said he would post his topical new political comedy, “The Sower,” to Scribd and charge $2 for it, partly because standard publishing is so slow. “If this is a book that is going to be interesting to people, now is the time that it fits into the national mood,” he said.