Scribd's turning a page to sell eBooks

A screen shot of Scribd's store

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Kai Ryssdal: If you've been working away at the next great American novel without a nibble from one of the big publishing houses, take heart. As of today, there is a new way to sell your masterpiece. The Web site Scribd has launched an online store where writers and publishers set the prices for their work. And here's the payoff: They get to keep 80 percent of the revenue. The company's taking direct aim at Amazon.com and some other established players in the growing market for eBooks, as Joel Rose reports.


JOEL ROSE: San Francisco novelist Kemble Scott released his first book in paperback through a traditional New York publishing house. But he's decided to skip the print edition with his second, a comedy called "The Sower." Scott says he's able to charge the very recession-friendly price of $2 dollars per download and still make more money than he would from a typical publishing deal.

KEMBLE Scott: Scripd is allowing us to keep 80 percent of the revenues from the sales of our books. That's unheard of revenue-sharing agreement with an author.

JARED Firedman: We just believe that the economics of the publishing industry are changing.

Jared Friedman co-founded Scribd two years ago. The start-up attracts millions of users per month by offering lots of content for free, sort of like a YouTube for documents. Now Friedman and his company are asking users to pay for some of the stuff on the site.

Friedman: We're confident because of the early success of the Amazon Kindle because it shows that people really are willing to pay for great written content if it's presented in a way that they like.

There are some key differences between Amazon and Scribd. E-books from Amazon only work on the Kindle book reader, while downloads from Scribd will work on a range of devices including laptops and smart phones. Simba Information analyst Michael Norris says that could give Scribd a leg up.

MICHAEL Norris: It's a huge advantage because the Amazon Kindle really hasn't had as, you know, quite as much penetration as Amazon wants the public to believe.

But the openness of Scribd's model could also make downloads from the site more vulnerable to piracy. Scribd says it will let authors decide whether to protect their documents with security software. But so far, none of the big publishing houses have signed up.

I'm Joel Rose, for Marketplace.

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