Blog Post

Scribd's iPaper Plan

Scribd, the San Francisco-based startup that was dubbed the “YouTube of Documents,” has finally become worthy of that sobriquet. While I don’t care much about community around documents, I love the concept of the dead simple sharing of documents. And that’s precisely what this 10-person startup that raised close to $5 million in funding from Redpoint Ventures has done with its new viewer called iPaper.

The company has also introduced an API that will make it easy for others publishers to plug Scribd into their systems. More on that later, but first let’s talk about their new iPaper, which CEO & Co-founder Trip Adler showed me over the weekend.

Like the YouTube video player, the iPaper viewer utilizes Adobe’s Flash technology. Adler says that it took the company about six months to develop this player; it replaces the older player, which was (ironically) based on Macromedia’s Flash Paper technology. Adler says this gives his company a competitive advantage over rivals including Adobe.

The iPaper app does pretty much everything you expect from Adobe Acrobat Reader, despite its tiny footprint. You can embed the documents, share them, do full text search, and there are many view modes. It is really, really fast — mostly because the document is “streamed” to iPaper instead of it being downloaded, like in case of Microsoft Office or PDF files. (I wonder why Adobe didn’t develop an iPaper viewer of its own. I guess they didn’t learn the lessons of online video.) The coolest thing about the iPaper demo was Scribd’s ability to embed Google text ads inside the documents being viewed. This makes non web-pages suddenly monetizable. The advertising revenues are split between the publisher and Scribd. I think this is an important development and explains why, unlike more enterprise-focused Docstoc, Scribd is focusing on the consumer market. There is no way for Google to advertise against non-HTML documents such as PDF format files. iPlayer opens up a big new inventory for Google. If the tiny startup can replicate the popularity of YouTube, it has suddenly made itself a possible acquisition candidate for Google. Of course, no one has been able to replicate YouTube and its success is something for Adler and his co-founders to think about.

67 Responses to “Scribd's iPaper Plan”

  1. You can share and display any document (more than 200 document types) in your own blog or on any website where you can add html code. Simply copy paste the embed code from Docuter into your blog or web page and give a unique viewing experience to your users.
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  2. Scribd needs to get their copyright and licensing straight before they are going to go anywhere. (Flickr is a great model.) Everything on Scribd is licensed using a CC-BY-NC license, even though at no point does the user agree to this license. Scribd seems to be willfully ignorant in regard to copyright and licensing. Their video promoting ipaper uses several documents (supposedly licensed under the CC-BY-NC license) without attribution and for the commercial purpose of promoting their service.

    Legally, if the license doesn’t hold up, then no one can reuse, redistribute, or even embed documents on Scribd. This seems to be quite a problem for their advertising model.

  3. Adobe’s PDF is capable of streaming since probably version 4.0. However, applications that create PDFs (including Acrobat) will not always enable the “Fast Web View” or the user neglects to “optimize” the file.

    In addition, the web application serving the PDF file to the browser must also be “streaming” enabled — which is fortunately the case with almost all of the modern web platforms.

    It is nice to see a tightly coupled (server + client) application where streaming is natural and not a user option.

  4. actually now that i think about it i think it’s EXACTLY the Acrobat fiefdoms at risk.

    * Macromedia comes out with FlashPaper, great Acrobat competitor that doesn’t require huge-ass download every time (Flash is on 98% of browsers)
    * Adobe buys Macromedia, realizes it doesn’t need 2 technologies, quietly asphyxiates FlashPaper before people realize how much better it is
    * Scribd takes a look, realizes it can rebuild FlashPaper as iPaper and kick Adobe’s Acrobat ass with Macromedia’s old product
    * Scribd adds some monetization features for $$$ & differentiation

    fucking brilliant. why didn’t i think of that?


  5. @ Dave

    Dude i think the search, flipping through pages, different views and smaller foot print are some of the key differences. I think Adobe should have done this a long time ago, but they didn’t and that is precisely the problem most incumbents have – fiefdoms as you said yourself.

  6. looks great, altho i’m not clear on what’s all that different about iPaper from the original Macromedia Flashpaper i first took a look at about 4 years ago (which i thought was awesome way back then). why Adobe couldn’t be doing this too, except for perhaps Acrobt / PDF corporate fiefdoms at risk? can someone elucidate further?

    anyway, it’s an interesting product regardless… and Scribd looks like a winner.

    along with Scribd, i’m very impressed with they’re doing something similar, altho a bit more on the professional side for presentations & powerepoints. if Scribd is YouTube, then maybe SlideShare is Flickr. actually i might say Scribd’s audience is Facebook; SlideShare’s audience is LinkedIn.

    (full disclosure: recently became an investor/advisor in SlideShare, however i’ve been using it fanatically for over a year…)

  7. Just a purely mechanical observation:

    I just went and looked at Scribd and found a document of interest. When I went to blog it there was no simple way to copy the paragraph that demonstrated its importance so I could paste it into my blog.

    You CAN embed the entire document and you CAN download the document for further use, and those are valuable features, but without the ability to copy/paste right off the display this will be a richly frustrating experience for bloggers, who will find a trove to explore and a multi-step not quite thought through process they must traverse every time they share.

    just my 2Cents… very close guys. Very close.

  8. “If the tiny startup can replicate the popularity of YouTube…”

    Somehow I don’t see people getting quite as excited about online documents as they would online videos. Kinda like saying a library should be just as popular as a movie theater on Friday night. I can see great advantages in a business environment, but not much for the general consumer market.

  9. PS. you do not need AIR to use this, and its a simple online tool to share and store different types of media including:

    Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 formats, Rich Text Format (RTF), Open Office formats, text, and PDF.
    • HTML
    • Adobe supported image formats: GIF, JPEG, BMP, PNG
    • Creative Suite file formats
    • SWF and Captivate formats
    • ZIP

  10. [I wonder why Adobe didn’t develop an iPaper viewer of its own. I guess they didn’t learn the lessons of online video.]

    Check out Adobe Share. It’s a web-based application written in AIR that has similar functionality.

  11. I believe that Adobe did attempt to do this. They call it Flash Paper. It was no where near as successful as they had hoped. I am not sure that they ever got to the “streaming” part but I believe flash itself has streaming content capabilities when combined with the Flash Media Server.