Scribd, HarperCollins Offer E-Book Subscriptions


Online document-sharing site Scribd is setting out to create the world’s largest subscription service for digital books.

The opening chapter in Scribd’s quest begins Tuesday with the introduction of an e-book subscription service that will boast thousands of titles published by HarperCollins before July 2012. HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corp., becomes the first of the five largest U.S. publishers to join a service vying to create an alternative to buying individual titles.

Scribd will charge $9 per month for a service that offers unlimited access to most of HarperCollins’s back catalog, as well as an assortment of other books from smaller publishers. Recent best sellers from Harper Collins aren’t included in the subscription service, although customers will be able to buy new titles individually on Scribd’s site.

“I feel we are moving into new, uncharted, waters, but that’s what innovating and reading is all about,” HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray said in an interview. “I feel like this is the right deal with the right partner at the right time, and we are going to learn.”

With their personal log-in, subscribers throughout the world will be able to browse through books using Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad, mobile devices running on Google Inc.’s Android software and any personal computer with a web browser. As long as they are logged in, subscribers will be able to stop reading a book on one device and pick up where they left off on another.

“For power readers, this is going to be like a dream come true,” predicted Scribd CEO Trip Adler. “We think this could really change the book publishing’s business model, and change people’s reading behavior.”

In the process, Scribd could help publishers cultivate an alternative to the electronic-books stores run by Inc., Apple Inc. and Google Inc.

Unlike those technology powers, Scribd is still small. Adler, 29, has raised $26 million in venture capital since he started the San Francisco company six years ago to help his father post a paper about neurosurgery online.

Scribd began testing its subscription service with a few small book publishers earlier this year. Since then, Scribd says the number of subscribers has been increasing by about 60 percent each month, although it won’t disclose how many paying customers it has. Scribd says it has 80 million users that visit its site to read an eclectic mix of books and documents that include research papers, essays and legal briefs.

HarperCollins and authors will be paid based on how much their books are read, under a complicated formula, Adler said. He declined to provide more specifics about the financial arrangements.