May 18, 2009, 7:49 AM — For all the news about new e-reader hardware hitting the market these days, we don't see a lot about content. Assuming you opted for something other than a Kindle, finding a good source of reading material in some kind of e-format can be a challenge. Today, Scribd, the popular document sharing site, is trying to change that with its new Scribd Store.
Up until now, documents on Scribd were all free, but the Scribd Store allows publishers and authors to charge for content. O'Reilly Media is one of the first publishers intending to give the service a try, and O'Reilly's Andrew Savikas has written a post about why they think the service is worth trying. Basically it boils down to more control and a better revenue share than competing services offer. Scribd lets the content provider set the price for a document, and 80% of that price goes to the provider. Compare that to Amazon, where Amazon sets the price and the content provider gets only 35% of the sell cost.
Documents you purchase off of Scrbd are in PDF format (optionally DRM-free if the content provider chooses that route), with EPUB coming soon. According to the New York Times, Scribd is in the process of readying an iPhone app that should be out next month. The Times also says that in addition to O'Reilly Media (technology books), independent publishers Lonely Planet (travel guides) and Berrett-Koehler (science books) will be adding their catalogs to the service.
In theory, Scribd has a lot to offer, but after spending a few moments on the site, I can't help but feel they still have more work to do. Landing on the Scribd Store page isn't a compelling experience, in my opinion. In fairness, it is still tagged as beta (and it doesn't seem as though the O'Reilly catalog is online yet), but I think Scribd needs to do a better job of exposing content from established publishers. I'm going to feel more comfortable handing over cash for an O'Reilly book than I am from a self-published author I've never heard of. As it stands now, the front page of the store displays the "Most Popular" content, which includes things like resume templates and cheat codes for the PC game Spore. Letting me set my languages would be a nice, too. I don't need documents written in languages I can't read in my search results.
It'd be great if Amazon had some robust competition in the e-book market; let's hope Scribd can keep advancing towards being that competition.