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.




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What is the connection, if any, between Scribd’s iPaper and the Danmark-based firm called iPaper? Aren’t the guys at Scribd a copycat?


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.

James Governor

to get youtube-class buzz virality would would almost certainly involve massive copyright infringement across a far wider range of publishers, with a clear financial model (ads) for them to attack. awesome.


I have uploaded a sample pdf file to scribd and when i embed that file in my blog it says file is of older version. Any fix for it.

Zoltan Soos

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.

Dave McClure

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?


Om Malik

@ 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.

Om Malik


what’s a little needling between friends. Anyway it is time Google did something new with AdSense. ;-)

Dave McClure

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…)

Niall Kennedy

Adobe currently partners with Yahoo! to deliver advertising-supported PDFs.

FlashPaper is a desktop application/convertor, and developers were always curious if Scribd received server-side licensing for the commercial convertor or simply applied a hack. The launch of iPaper solves the licensing issue for Scribd and may have been a required step for the company.

malcolm stanley

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.


“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.


“There is no way for Google to advertise against non-HTML documents such as PDF format files.”

Them’s fighting words Om.

Chris Gilmer

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.
• Adobe supported image formats: GIF, JPEG, BMP, PNG
• Creative Suite file formats
• SWF and Captivate formats


Adobe Share is clunky and you have to install all the AIR crap before you use it.

Dwight Kelly

[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.

Neel Ketkar

Gave it a shot based on the recommendation, but looks like it isn’t up and running yet – error message said the embed code they gave me was the “old” version.

Looks promising though!

Ron West

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.

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