24symbols, a site that harnesses a Pandora-like model for e-books, officially launched today. The site lets users read e-books by streaming them from the cloud–no downloading–and is available as a free ad-supported version or a paid premium version. Users can dabble in e-books and discover new books and authors.
24symbols is a Spanish company, though the site is also available in English. Like Spotify, however, 24symbols is not available in the U.S. So for a U.S. audience, 24symbols serves simply as an example of how a streaming e-book platform could work.
24symbols has about 1,000 titles currently available, from small and medium publishers. Social networking features let users share passages and favorite books.
The reading experience is currently entirely browser-based, but an iPad app will be released within a few days, followed by iPhone and Android apps.
24symbols’ premium version is ad free and allows for offline reading. The paid service is €9,99€ ($14.45) per month, €19,99€ per quarter or €59,99€ per year. That’s similar to the cost of Spotify, which is available internationally for €9,99 per month, but pricier than Pandora (NYSE: P), which is $36 for a one-year premium subscription.
Publishers receive 70 percent of a book’s revenue, and 24symbols keeps 30 percent. Revenue is based on the number of page views–i.e., the number of times an actual page of a book is read compared to the overall number of pages read across all titles. Publishers can include their books in both the free ad-supported area of the site and in the paid area or can limit them to either one of those. “The number of pages read will be now the success-measuring unit of a certain book, instead of the number of books sold,” 24symbols writes in a PDF on its website.
24symbols leaves publishers responsible for paying their authors royalties based on income from the site, and recommends that that royalty be 30 percent.
In the United States, the Starbucks (NSDQ: SBUX) Digital Network has been streaming books through its Bookish Reading Group. The same publishers that participated in the Bookish Reading Group–Hachette, Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) and Penguin–are now part of the new version of Bookish, a co-venture with AOL (NYSE: AOL) launching this summer. It is not clear yet whether the new site will also include streaming, but one of its aims is to help readers discover new books.