Book publisher Simon & Schuster will offer 5,000 of its titles for sale digitally via document-sharing site Scribd.com, opening a fresh chapter in Amazon's epic struggle to dominate the e-book market with its Kindle e-reader. Best-selling Simon & Schuster editions from scribes like Dan Brown, Steven King, and Mary Higgins Clark will sell on Scribd's site, while thousands of other titles will be searchable in Scribd's database, from which users can sample 10% of those books' content and click through to purchase print editions.
The Scribd model is what Amazon must have seen coming (and feared): while Amazon sets the price of books it sells and restricts the file readability to its own Kindle e-reader, Scribd takes only 20% of whatever price the publisher chooses, granting authors and publishing houses much more leeway. Using anticopying software from Adobe, Simon & Schuster's books are formatted to read on most e-readers (but not the Kindle) and some cell phones.
About 60 million users a month visit Scribd to download documents, recipes, book excerpts and anything else that can be expressed by written word, so the extension into book sales was more inevitability than opportunity. Simon & Schuster is the first large publishing house to engage Scribd in a deal of this nature, though Scribd CEO Trip Adler confirmed to The New York Times that the company is in talks with other major publishers.
Naturally, Simon & Schuster is but the tip of the iceberg for Scribd. As Education blogger Christopher Dawson noted on ZDNet, the site has huge potential in the realm of academia. Those college course packets that have to be printed, bound and paid for with perfectly good beer money may soon be a thing of the past. As for textbooks? Amazon's done okay selling them, but giving academics a place to sell their research papers individually at a competitive rate could render obsolete the practice of collecting them into volumes.
It's not that the Kindle isn't great, but in a long-tail world where people want options, Scribd seems much better positioned to take advantage of both readers' and publishers' primary desire: choice. The Simon & Schuster deal is an important plot point in the e-book narrative, and Amazon might do well to take a page from Scribd's book.