I spoke with Scribd.com yesterday about their partnership with Simon & Schuster to sell 5,000 eBooks in the recently launched Scribd Store, as well as their future plans for where they're taking the business. There are great articles in BusinessWeek and the WSJ on the Scribd/Simon & Schuster deal, so I won't repeat what they cover, but I'll add a few of my own thoughts.
Scribd is tapping into unaddressed needs in the eBook/eContent market by:
Expanding content beyond books. Scribd content runs the gamut of reading material, including things like sheet music, resumes, and recipes in addition to more conventional long-form books, both professional and user-generated. There isn't anything else quite like it on the Web, and nothing like it in an eReader device environment.(Currently, you can download Scribd content into PDF format and sideload them into your Sony Reader, but they don't yet have more streamlined device integration.)
Enabling social interaction around reading. One of the major shortfalls of Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader is that they don't support the social behavior that accompanies reading books, like recommending books to others and buying books for a friend. Scribd doesn't take sharing this far, and it isn't yet integrated into any eBook/eReader devices, but at least on the Web it has introduced a social norm around sharing content that eReading has lacked so far.
I'm a few days late on this one but it's been a busy week!
Google announced Monday that by the end of the year it would allow publishers to sell eBooks directly through Google. Google was already involved in the eBook/eReader market through its patented book digitization efforts and through a partnership with Sony that offers 500,000 public domain books for free in the Sony Reader store.
We expected that Google would move more aggressively into the eReader space, but the move to sell eBooks directly is surprising. Sure, there's Froogle, and Google Checkout, but Google doesn't really sell anything but ads. Even when it could have moved from displaying search results to selling products--like airline tickets--it hasn't, until now.
This move directly threatens Amazon as an eBook seller, but more importantly, it challenges Amazon's whole proprietary approach to the eBook market. Google eBooks will use open standards and can be used on any reader, unlike Amazon's Kindle format. Google will also let publishers set their own pricing, unlike Amazon.
What's next for Google? We wouldn't be surprised to see an Android-operated eReader, one that syncs with Google docs and is optimized for reading business documents in addition to books and news. In addition, specialized eReaders are seen as a potential enabler of paperless hospitals; Google's involvement in digitizing health records could put Google in a central role in the health eReader space.