June 29th, 2009

books in a stack

YouTube for books? Only if YouTube sold movies

I just watched a video and read an article on Business Week. Both were about Scribd, a fairly new website that started with the idea that the web was a great way to share documents. The article calls it “YouTube for books.” In some ways it is, because anyone can post documents there— research papers, recipe collections, stories, books excerpts, and whole books.

Like YouTube, Scribd has to monitor content to be sure no one has posted someone else's copyrighted work, but most often it's the author who has posted the work. What's drawn Business Week's attention is that Scribd has signed a deal with Simon & Schuster< to sell books through the site. This is a big leap for Scribd, and direct competition for Amazon, because Scribd is offering publishers a lot more control over how the book is sold, including setting the price.

I think it's a good thing that Amazon has some competition, but I hope this doesn't persuade publishers that the way to sell ebooks is to keep the price the same as the print version. Publishers may hate the $9.99 rule, but I'll tell you, it's one of the main reasons the Kindle has sold so well, and ebooks have done so well.


Scribd (continued)

After my post of the other day about how Scribd could be so groundbreaking, I thought I should check it out some more. I spent my lunch hour browsing the site, and I have to say, I doubt if Jeff Bezos is losing any sleep over it, as least not in its current incarnation.

Scribd was designed to share documents, and its basic assumption is that you're going to read them on a PC of some sort. It formats the documents in a preview window that's pretty and readable— it looks just like a print book— but it's not terribly easy to read a window-within-a-window. I had to line it up carefully so that the window fit my browser screen; in some books, the preview window wasn't big enough for the book's page size. I could click the button to turn the pages, but I had to use the scroll bar to be able to read to the bottom of a page. If there was a way to size that window, it wasn't obvious.

Second, the Simon & Schuster section of the Scribd store didn't have any good way to search it— no "by genre" buttons, not a lot of sort functions, and when you search, it didn't look like you were searching only S&S books. Also, the books are way more expensive than on the Kindle store. I saw lots of books over $20, including a nonfiction one on John Brown that was over $40.

And what do you get for that? You get a DRM-protected book you can read on your PC, that's what. It says it supports EPUb and XHMTML and Adobe editions, but no mention of Mobi, so I didn't buy anything.

So, my analysis of Scribd is that it's a great place for free books but not that good a bookstore. Still a lot of work to do in that department.