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Scribd Store a Welcome Addition to Ebook Market (and 650 O'Reilly Titles Included)

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.

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Comments: 7

  1. andrew said:
    > 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

    amazon typically _discounts_ the publisher’s “suggested” price,
    meaning that the price at scribd will be higher than at amazon.

    so amazon will have a lower price and a larger established base.

    which would ordinarily mean that scribd doesn’t stand a chance.

    still, i really like the .epub format. not as a _format_ per se
    — it is much more difficult for authors than it should be —
    but because it makes it so easy to scrape its content out of it.
    the text is stored in nicely-tagged xhtml files, and graphics
    are right there in their native format. so reformat and remix
    — things the publisher houses often consider to be “piracy” —
    are _so_ much easier to do with .epub than with obtuse .pdf…

    this convenient scraping might be a reason, for some people,
    to go to scribd and pay the higher price to buy a copy there…

    but that’s the only aspect that will make this horse-race viable.

    however, most big publishers are likely to choose to use d.r.m.,
    which would be the 3rd strike against scribd. nice try, though…


    p.s. this is a great option for _self-publishers_, but if scribd
    fails to accumulate the customers, it won’t be of much benefit.
    yet since extremely low prices — $1-$4 — will be workable
    perhaps that will be enough incentive to lure in some buyers.
    (amazon conveniently declines to discount such prices, so
    authors receive just 35% while amazon takes their full 65%.
    big publishers like to talk about how amazon is lowering the
    perceived value of an e-book with their $9.99 campaign,
    since those big publishers would like an even higher price,
    but nobody talks about the way amazon is _pushing_up_
    the lower price to that same $9.99 by declining to discount.)

  2. Are GNU FDL licensed ebooks in there too?

  3. Scribd has two huge things in its favor:

    1. It’s selling PDFs, not trying to lock everyone into a closed system like Kindle or proprietary format. In fact, people who buy these PDFs from Scribd will be able to read them on their Kindle, archive them, etc. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that the pricing will higher than on Amazon.

    2. Scribd has some sort of relationship with Google, and has integrated Adsense into its reader software. No coincidence that Google is returning Scribd documents very high in search results (even though 99 percent of the stuff on Scribd now is crap). Just wait until there are several million high quality documents uploaded to Scribd.

  4. @Aaron — I don’t know if/when Scribd intends to support Mobi. Kindle can read PDF files (though your mileage will certainly vary on the quality of the rendering depending on the source), and there are free tools available for converting EPUB to Mobi. For the Twitter Book on Scribd, as a hack I just “attached” the EPUB and Mobi versions to the PDF, but that requires Adobe Reader to access those attachments, and is rather kludgy.

    @Rudolf — are you asking about any O’Reilly-published titles? Either way, your quickest answer will probably be to search Scribd directly.

    @Steve — Publishers give Amazon a “Digital List Price”, and Amazon pays publishers at a discount off that (assume 50% for discussion). So if my “list price” is $10 for an ebook (meaning that’s what I sell it for on Scribd and/or my own website) then Amazon pays $5 for it, so can sell it for $6 and still potentially make a profit. In practice, Amazon constantly adjusts those Kindle prices up and down, in many cases not discounting them at all. While it’s possible Scribd has a relationship with Google, Google is rather careful about the appearance of favoring one content source over another; I suspect the high rank of Scribd documents comes from the sheer volume of links (tens of millions of visits each day).

  5. steve said:
    > I don’t think it’s necessarily true that
    > the pricing will higher than on Amazon.

    well, it might not be “necessarily” true, but it _will_ be true
    in about 99.2% of the cases. if you find differently, say so.

    and i’d guess that amazon doesn’t fear this competition…

    indeed, i’d say amazon will avidly monitor prices at scribd.

    amazon has shown — over in england — that it _will_
    crack down hard on publishers who undercut their own
    “suggested list prices” on another site to “game” amazon
    and its discounts. so scribd prices will _have_to_ be high.
    if not, you’ll give amazon a legal excuse to pay you less…

    the only exception, as i said above, is for self-published
    books that are priced very low, i.e., anything below $8.
    since amazon typically does not discount these books,
    and takes 65%, the authors would much rather have you
    buy those books at scribd instead, where they’ll get 80%.
    since you’ll be paying the same at either place, you might
    be willing to get it from scribd to do the author a favor…
    of course, if you want to do the author a favor, you would
    buy directly from the author’s website in the first place…
    besides, it would be totally uncharacteristic of amazon
    if it decided not to aggressively match any competitor,
    so even this one “exception” won’t be likely to exist long.

    > Google is returning Scribd documents very high

    so what? who cares?

    amazon’s customers don’t search google for books;
    they go to amazon and search for books _there_…

    and there’s just no reason for them to go to scribd.


  6. Hmmm…

    Well, in the beginning there wasn’t much reason for people to go to Amazon.

    Now that it exists, I plan to look for books on scribd well before I look for them on Amazon.