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July 22 2011

Publishing News: Scribd flirting with ebook subscriptions?

Here's a few highlights from this week's publishing news.

Scribd takes baby steps toward ebook subscriptions

FloatLogo2.jpgScribd's new long-form reading and reformatting platform Float was in the news this week. On the surface it seems to be very much like other content aggregator-reformatting platforms — such as Instapaper and Flipboard — that let users read and share content from the web in easy-to-read formats.

The major difference between Float and its competitors is Scribd's agreement with 150 publishers to reformat their content. This is what will make Scribd's plan to become the "Netflix of reading" a reality. Liz Gannes talked to Trip Adler, Scribd's CEO, for a post for All Things Digital. Adler said the ultimate goal is to "be a Netflix for written content, where users can sign up for subscriptions to get access to a broad swath of premium articles."

Premium articles? You mean articles from behind paywalls? Sure sounds like it, and if so, this is where those 150 established relationships will come in handy (just ask Netflix). In a post for Wired, Steven Levy said a subscription fee hasn't been established, but he touches on an idea that would make Float the holder of the Holy Grail of digital distribution — ebook subscriptions:

Scribd hasn't decided what the monthly fee for that should be, but Adler says that the $8 to $10 range of services like Netflix and Spotify sounds about right. If the service included books — a concept that certainly has crossed Adler's mind — the fees might be higher.

Now, that is a service I'd pay for, and it just might make me buy an ereading device.

TapIn Bay Area app empowers citizen journalists

The mobile photojournalism company behind the Tackable app teamed up with the Bay Area Newspaper Group to launch TapIn Bay Area, a location-aware news app for the Bay Area. The app allows journalists at the San Jose Mercury News to make use of citizen journalism in a very direct way. In a post for GigaOm, Mathew Ingram described how it works:

The "citizen journalism" portion of the app is based around what are called "gigs," which are requests for information about specific topics or news events. Journalists from the newspapers working with TapIn or Tackable (which offers a similar system in its app) can post these requests if they need photos or other info about something, but other users can also create and post a "gig" through the service.


Citizen journalism isn't new, but this mobile platform makes it a bit more slick, integrating Google Maps to create a friendly user experience. From a business standpoint, though, this isn't the most important part of this app. As Ingram points out, it's bringing a much needed digital revenue source to newspapers:

... it also allows the newspaper to offer readers Groupon-style "daily deals" based on their location as well ... An app like TapIn, if it can manage to get enough traction with users, could give the San Jose Mercury News and other Media News outlets a bit of a leg up (the media company says it plans to roll TapIn out in other cities where it owns newspapers).

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Amazon gets into e-textbook rentals

This week Amazon launched an e-textbook rental program on the Kindle. Broke college students might not be rejoicing just yet, however. Several companies, including CourseSmart and BookRenter, already have delved into the e-textbook rental market without overwhelming success.


A study recently conducted at the University of Washington suggests ereading devices themselves might be the problem. In a release, first author and doctoral student Alex Theyer said:

There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing. It remains to be seen how to design one. It's a great space to get into, there's a lot of opportunity.

In the case of Amazon, selection also might be a barrier to success, as one report found the search results "discouraging." E-textbooks, rental or otherwise, are not quite there, but increased experimentation and advancements in digital device capabilities may hold promise for those strapped college students.


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