Scribd – the “Netflix of Books”

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In the last couple of months I’ve had several people ask me about Scribd (http://www.scribd.com). So, I thought I’d take a few minutes to let everyone know what I’ve learned about it.

Scribd has been around since 2007 and is currently made up of two components – an “E-book” section for publishers to market and sell e-books and a “Document” section where Scribd users can upload their own documents. Scribd is currently advertising the availability of hundreds of thousands of books from hundreds of publishers including Harper Collins. And sometime around October of 2013, Scribd began marketing itself as “The Netflix of Books” (which is probably why people have been asking questions lately). Currently the cost of Scribd is $8.99 per month or, $47.88 per year (works out to $3.99 per month).

Naturally, there are a couple of things that concern me about Scribd. The first, of course, is how it might affect libraries. I’ve never been a big believer when I hear people say “e-books will be the end of paper books” any more than I would have believed the people in the early 1900s who claimed that “microfilm will be the end of paper books” but the idea that, for only $8.99 per month, I could I have unrestricted access to hundreds of thousands of books, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, well, that’s a little bit daunting for anyone working at a library. My gut level instinct, though, is that the same people that I see at the library in the morning, who happen to be the same people I see on Sunday afternoon at the bookstore, and Friday evening reading on their Kindles, I-pads, and Nooks at the coffee shop will probably just incorporate Scribd into their reading routine. Most of the library users I know won’t replace the library with Scribd, they’ll just add Scribd to the other countless avenues they currently have for reading.

My bigger concern was the issue of copyright violations that I found on almost every search I did when trying to find out more information about Scribd. One of the best posts I came across was on the SWFA’s blog “Writer Beware” (http://bit.ly/PYy5Qk) which poses a lot of questions about how Scribd users are using the “Document” section of Scribd to post and share copyrighted material. One of Scribd’s executives, Andrew Weinstein, responded to this specific blog post almost immediately through an interview/blog post on Publisher’s Weekly’s website (http://bit.ly/1n1nUs5) about Scribd’s ongoing commitment to remove pirated content as quickly as possible once they become aware of it. But another blog posting on the Smashwords website (http://bit.ly/1hH5kgK) made me think a little bit of Tony Soprano. The assertion in the “December 21 Update on Privacy Prevention” is essentially that, if you are an author and you publish through normal business channels with Scribd, Scribd will take a sort of “copyright fingerprint” of your work and then use that fingerprint in Scribd’s “Copyright Management System” to ensure that your copyrighted material does not appear in any pirated version anywhere on Scribd. If you’re not with a publisher that does business with Scribd, though, then it sounds like the process of complaining to Scribd and getting them to take down your copyrighted materials is a lot harder. In my mind I picture some sort of electronic version of Paulie Walnuts and Tony Soprano standing behind an author with baseball bats in their hands and guns in their jacket pockets saying, “We’ll protect your work – just as soon as you give it to us.”

It will be interesting to see where Scribd goes and how they handle the copyright violations issue. For many people I’m sure 2007 seems like a long time ago and they’re probably wondering why Scribd hasn’t figured out a way in 7 years to perfect copyright compliance. In my mind, though, 7 years is no longer a great deal of time and with how fast things move on the internet, I’m sure that what we’re seeing with Scribd’s copyright compliance system is just the first mile or two of a very long journey. It will be interesting to see if they really become “the Netflix of books.

GHW