Scribd Hosts Online Book Publishing, Rivals Amazon

Dennis Faas's picture

A website designed for document sharing will soon allow authors to sell electronic copies of their books. The endeavor could mark a dramatic evolution in the publishing industry. will take advantage of its iPaper technology, designed to show any document format on any computer. The iPaper format works similarly to Adobe's PDF (portable document format), but is purpose-built for the web and does not require the user have any software installed. Readers can also download the entire file in its original format.

At the moment, the site exists for a variety of purposes, such as allowing people to compare essays (there's an option to restrict who can read a document), publish recipes, or give away unpublished work to promote it.

Piracy Claims Could Hamper Opportunity

However, critics claim the site's true purpose is piracy.

For its part, Scribd says it maintains a database of copyrighted books and filters out any titles which users attempt to upload. (Source:

But as of this morning and at the time of this writing, it was simple enough to find and read copyrighted books in their entirety, including Timothy Ferris' The Four Hour Work Week and Neil Strauss' Rules Of The Game. There are also documents which, although useful, raise copyright issues, such as copies of instruction manuals for consumer goods.

The introduction of paid content on the site will not necessarily make this problem worse, however. As sellers will need to give some form of payment address, they'll be easier to trace if they upload copyrighted material and pass it off as their own, particularly if sales are strong.

Publishers Control Pricing

Scribd believes the service will offer legitimate publishers an alternative to electronic publishing schemes such as that run by Amazon. Unlike Amazon, which controls all pricing itself, Scribd will let publishers set their own prices (with a minimum of $1), with the site taking a 20 per cent commission.

There will also be an option to sell individual chapters from a book, which wouldn't necessarily be financially viable with printed material. One example use would be a travel guide publisher selling a chapter about a particular city for people who didn't want to buy a guidebook for an entire country. (Source:

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