The recent headlines about Simon and Schuster's publication of 5000 ebooks on Scribd grabbed my attention, since I had previously (and unfairly) put a look at the new service on the back burner. I'm glad I took the time to check it out since, assuming their business model is sustainable (and it looks pretty good right now), Scribd could become an incredible resource for inexpensive academic materials and budding writers.
As BusinessWeek puts it,
Scribd, shorthand for scribbled, is a sort of YouTube (GOOG) for publishing, where anyone can upload digital versions of books, research reports, and other printed matter and share them easily across the Web.
The site is already generating impressive traffic: 60 million visitors a month. According to the BusinessWeek article, it's already turning a profit, which is much more than could be said for Amazon when it was only 2 years old.
There are 2 particularly interesting features of Scribd as far as academics are concerned. The first is that you can publish and share any content to which you hold the rights for free. A search for Algebra in their academic category yields course syllabi, musings on Algebra instruction in early grades, practice tests, and a wide variety of content in PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and/or text form, all for free. It can be viewed in the browser or downloaded.
Scribd also provides you embed codes to easily share the documents you've uploaded. Imagine taking all of the coursework and materials you prepare for classes and uploading them in a central, searchable repository, making them available to all of your students, anytime, anywhere, as well as to anyone else in the world who might search for the subject you're teaching. With an incredibly easy registration process, publishing documents is simple even for technophobic teachers.
Where Scribd possibly becomes even more interesting is in its publish-for-profit model. Just as you can easily upload content for free, you can also upload documents to sell, setting a price of your choosing. Scribd keeps 20%, you keep the rest. Can you say "Cheap Textbooks"?
Unlike Amazon, Scribd is not tied to any particular reader or format, allowing students and peers to access content from any Internet-connected device. It also means that smaller, supplemental texts that a traditional publisher may not pick up can easily be published and sold.
Obviously, this places a greater onus on schools to evaluate texts before implementing them in schools since books published in this fashion may not follow the same peer-review/editorial models as traditional textbooks. However, an evaluation mechanism is already in place in most schools and teachers as subject matter experts should be well-qualified to review proposed texts. If we're all honest, though, how many traditional textbooks out there don't meet classroom needs? Or are poorly written? Or poorly edited?
The cost savings, easy access to electronic materials, and newfound ability to publish painlessly far outweigh any potential extra review burden. Now we just need to get some big textbook publishers to partner with Scribd, Simon and Schuster-style. And any subject matter experts out there? Take a look at Scribd for your next textbook.