Hoping to do for the written word what iTunes did for music, the online document-sharing service Scribd is opening an Internet store that will offer new sales opportunities for authors and publishers, and possibly spawn more bargains for book lovers.
Scribd's commercial channel, scheduled to debut Monday, marks the first time the 2-year-old service has charged for the material posted on its Web site. It claims to have amassed 35 billion words in an eclectic mix of books, essays, PowerPoint presentations, legal briefs and other documents.
Until now, access to all the material on Scribd had been free, although two months ago the company began to let publishers upload books with links to other Web sites where a copy could be bought.
Now San Francisco-based Scribd will pocket 20 percent of each sale completed in its own shop and pay the remaining 80 percent to the creators or copyright owners of the written material.
It's a concept similar to other publishing sites, including Lulu.com, but Scribd appears more likely to shake up the market, said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.
Scribd's biggest advantage is a system that will allow any document bought from its store to be read on different gadgets — a personal computer, an electronic book reader like Amazon.com's Kindle or a sophisticated mobile phone.
"That's the Holy Grail right there, so I think this could turn into a really big deal," Weiner said. "Its ultimate success will be determined by the number of publishers and authors it can get on board."
As its site has grown, Scribd has turned into a piracy magnet as people post unlicensed copies of books and other material. But Scribd Chief Executive Trip Adler says his site quickly removes any unauthorized documents when it's notified of a problem. And the new store on the site will have copyright management tools, letting writers limit the number of devices that can store books or other material bought from Scribd.
The publishers already committed to Scribd's store include O'Reilly Media, which specializes in books on technology subjects. O'Reilly is turning to Scribd to sell a primer on Twitter before the book is even available in print.
Scribd's store gives authors a way to bypass the publishing industry so they can bring their books to market more quickly and perhaps make more money than they would have from following the conventional route. Book lovers, in turn, could benefit from prices below those found in traditional book stores or even on Amazon.com.
Three previously published authors already have banded together to sell their latest books for just $2 per copy on Scribd.
At that price, Kemble Scott will collect $1.60 for each electronic copy of his latest book, "The Sower," that sells on Scribd. That's more than the roughly $1.13 he got from each sale of his first book, "SoMa," which carried a $15 cover price.
"Paperback books really took off during The Great Depression so we thought, `Why not make a pricing statement during The Great Recession?' " Scott said.
The other writers selling books for $2 on Scribd are Tamim Ansary, who previously wrote "West of Kabul, East of New York" and is now peddling "The Widow's Husband"; and Joe Quirk, who is following up his novel "The Ultimate Rush" with "Exult."
The minimum price in Scribd's store will be $1, with no maximum. A research report on business in China will start in Scribd's store at $5,000.
Scribd's store also will allow publishers or authors to sell individual chapters from books, much like Apple's iTunes enables music labels to sell single tracks from albums. Lonely Planet, which publishes travel guides, plans to use Scribd to sell chapters about specific cities to people who might not want to read about an entire country.
"Our goal is to liberate the written word," Adler said.