Scribd Starts User-Generated E-Book Sales with Optional DRM

Scribd, a website that is often described as “YouTube for documents,” has launched the Scribd Store, where users can upload their own digital publications and make them available for sale — with or without DRM.  Scribd is using Adobe Digital Editions technology, which includes Adobe Content Server 4 DRM.

Users get 80% of the sale price they set for their e-books, less $0.25 sales fee without DRM or $0.40 with DRM.  Some or all of the 15 cents extra for DRM will go to Adobe, which charges 5 to 15 cents per transaction depending on the business model.  80% is a generous commission compared to other e-book retail sites.

Scribd is also making deals with publishers to sell their e-books on the site, as a competitor to Amazon and other e-book retailers, some of which (not Amazon) use the same Adobe Digital Editions format.  So far, travel publisher Lonely Planet and innovative technical publisher O’Reilly & Associates have signed on.  Scribd already has features for detecting and blocking users’ attempts to upload copyrighted works to the site.

This is an exciting development in e-publishing, in two respects.  Most importantly, it offers individual creators the ability to sell their content and choose pricing as well as whether or how to control usage via DRM.  This amounts to a “crowdsourcing” experiment in e-book pricing and DRM features.  Scribd will be able to garner lots of data about consumer sensitivity to e-book pricing and DRM features for a very wide variety of content.

Such data ought to be inherently valuable to publishers as they explore what appears to be a newly vital e-book market.  Moreover, it should dwarf the significance of existing studies by market researchers and academics on DRM and content economics — many of which are too narrow or inherently flawed to be useful anyway.

Secondly, the Scribd Store occupies an important niche between free user-generated content, a la YouTube and Flickr, and big media-dominated content distribution a la iTunes and Amazon.  Indidivual content contributors need simple ways to get paid for their content if they wish; the big UGC sites don’t provide this.  If Scribd is successful, then they will be pressured into adding this type of feature.  It is great to see a major member of the UGC community finally embrace compensation for content creators instead of eschewing it.

Well done, Scribd!

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