The document-sharing site Scribd has launched a new “Scribd Store” selling view and download access to documents and books. As part of the launch, there are now more than 650 O’Reilly ebooks now available for preview and sale in the Scribd store, and all include DRM-free PDF downloads with purchase. (Scribd will soon be adding EPUB as a format, and we’ll make that available as soon as possible.)
Many publishers (including O’Reilly) have kept Scribd at arm’s length because the service was often used by people posting copyrighted material without permission. Though Scribd was reasonably responsive to takedown requests, that puts the onus for monitoring on the publisher, a whack-a-mole scenario that will consume as many resources as you throw at it if you let it. But Scribd has implemented a new system that uses the ebooks provided for sale to identify (and remove) any other unauthorized versions of that material, as well as prevent future unauthorized uploads. Like any technology it’s far from perfect (for example, I suspect scanned images are more difficult to test than standard PDFs), but it’s good enough for us to be comfortable participating, and is as good an example as any of turning lemons into lemonade.
For a publisher (and I use the term loosely) the terms for the Scribd store are impressive — publishers set the sale price directly, and keep 80% of the revenue (compare that to Amazon’s DTP program, where the standard terms are that Amazon gets to set the actual price, and the publisher only gets 35% of their “suggested” price). There’s also an interesting “automated pricing” option in Scribd, which uses an (unspecified) algorithm to set the sale price. But the pieces of the Scribd store I’m most excited about is the real-time reporting (compared with a lag of a month or more with most ebook resellers, including Amazon), the option to easily provide free updates to existing content, and the variety of adjustable display options — like preview amount, refreshingly optional DRM, and purchase-link images. Administering and understanding your sales in Scribd is downright delightful compared with the same for Kindle.
A service like Scribd further reduces the barriers to content creators interested in self publishing digital material (and again offers much better terms than Amazon’s DTP program for Kindle), so in some ways absolutely a threat to existing publishers. But we also view it as an opportunity to get our books in front of interested readers, and a promising sign that the market for ebooks is large enough to continue attracting startups like Scribd who bring needed diversity and competition among resellers.