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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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.

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