Scribd goes mobile, adds sharing to iPhone, Kindle

Scribd is unveiling a new way for people to view documents via its service--by sending them to mobile phones and e-reader devices.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Trip Adler, CEO of document-sharing service Scribd.com, could be commended for having an unorthodox presentation style. At a time when companies big and small have gone to great lengths in trying to channel Steve Jobs, Adler is the one thinking different.

On Tuesday, as I sat in Scribd's San Francisco offices getting a demo of the company's newest feature--which lets people send digital documents to a handful of portable reading devices with just two mouse clicks--Adler was inking the entire process for me on a whiteboard.

The disconnect of an analog pitch for a company founded entirely on digital documents seemed to go unnoticed.

Nevertheless, Adler's eyes lit up when he began to talk about how important a step it was for Scribd, which has long since moved off its "YouTube for documents" mantra into promoting itself as a place for writers to sell books they can't afford to publish and for people to discover others with similar reading interests. Like Google, it has a similar goal of trying to organize information, although in this case it's just hosted Web documents.

Scribd users can now send documents straight to their device with a mouse click. Scribd / CNET

The new send-to-mobile-devices feature has been in the works for some time now, but only recently has it become a priority for Scribd. "We're helping e-reading devices, which have almost no content when you first get them," Adler said.

More importantly, getting that content usually costs money, whereas Scribd is coming out of the gates with much of it for free. That's only for a little while, though. Scribd's next step is to enable purchased content to be sent to mobile devices too. For now people will only be able to send items without DRM, which include free documents and items that have been purchased but that do not include copy protection.

Scribd's mobile deployment has two parts to it--the main one being compatibility with as many devices as possible. This includes Amazon.com's Kindle, Apple's iPhone, and Windows Mobile devices, alongside newer products like Barnes & Noble's Nook. These options materialize when people click on the new send button. People can then register their devices with Scribd, either with a phone number or device-specific e-mail address. This makes it a two-click affair to send on future visits to the site.

iPhone users will be able to get Scribd documents sent to them as an SMS or e-mail. Either way it comes as a PDF document instead of having to be viewed in Adobe Flash. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

The second part of the equation is an array of native, device-specific apps. In the iPhone's case, this will let users store local copies of Scribd documents right on their phone. It will also be able to save your location if you're reading long-form content. As it stands, Scribd's send-to-mobile tool simply sends along a link to the PDF, which then needs to be downloaded in order to be read on the device.

These apps, which will be introduced later this year, go hand-in-hand with Scribd's new open platform for electronic devices, which specifies what device manufacturers will need to do to include Scribd's directory of documents in their own operating systems. App developers will be able to tap into this as well.

On a very high level, Scribd is doing what Amazon has done with its own Kindle app store. The big difference is that Adler and company are trying to do this with a very different type of content. Whereas the larger companies fight to make deals with book and magazine publishers, Scribd's users are simply uploading items they've created--and that collection is growing fast.

Currently, Scribd hosts more 10 million documents--a number Adler says is increasing by about 10 percent a month. Of that 10 million, 200,000 books are being published to the service each year, which Adler says is seeing similar growth. However, unlike some of its competitors, including DocStoc, Scribd is not producing any of its own works.

While it's questionable whether companies like Amazon and Apple will welcome Scribd's content-related offerings, Scribd has found a way to get around that approval. It's also done this in a way that cuts software syncing tools and extra computers out of the equation.

Looking ahead, systems like this will play an important part in helping companies crack into closed device ecosystems, where native, third-party content delivery networks are not as compatible or welcome.

On a somewhat related note, I learned from Adler that the company quietly killed off its free scanning-by-snail-mail service that was launched (at an unfortunate time) back in 2008.

I guess Adler's enthusiasm for analog scribbles only goes as far as a whiteboard.