Document sharing site Scribd is expanding its mobile publishing efforts with the introduction of Float, a free, Instapaper-like iPhone app that allows readers to organize their online reading in one space. At launch, Float has content from 150 websites and blogs, including Allrecipes.com, The Associated Press, Wired, Time CBSNews.com, CHOW, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post, InStyle, and others. It plans to roll out a basic subscription model for publishers later this year.
Float is debuting seven months after Scribd raised $13 million in a third round funding intended to support its mobile plans and new products.
While mostly known for document sharing (paidContent and others often use the platform to post legal documents and company presentations), San Francisco-based Scribd has been aiming itself towards a wider consumer market with an eye toward finding a middle ground between publishers’ native apps and PDF-style versions of websites for reading on tablets like the iPad.
Float represents the clearest form of Scribd’s attempt to expand its position as a document sharing company to one that has aimed much of its services at major book and magazine publishers as e-readers and tablets have become mainstream products.
Mobile, naturally, has been at the center of that strategy since early 2010, which it began focusing heavily on apps and e-readers as platforms for its document sharing. The company also has evolved its e-commerce with its two-year-old Scribd Store, which is an attempt to bring together both mainstream publishing houses like Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) as well as independent authors looking for large venue to market their own works.
There was a previous Scribd mobile app that was focused on accessing documents via mobile, but the idea behind Float is about arranging editorial content on on any device. Instead of just adding on to the existing Scribd-branded mobile product, the new app was named Float because “we wanted to convey the feeling of no boundaries; removing the barriers of time, space, sharing, devices. It also represents the fluidity of text,” CEO/co-founder Trip Adler said in an e-mail.
“Digital reading is fragmented,” he added in a statement. “There are different formats, devices, applications and paywalls for reading web content and we want to offer a better solution.”
While it sounds a lot like a hybrid of the long-form focused Instapaper or the more snackable news reader Pulse, Float has a few things which it believes can differentiate it. Aside from looking to develop stronger ties to online publishers, the app is said to be designed to work well for casual browsing as well as long-form reads. Text previously formatted for the web can now be easily read on any mobile device in a “floating text” reading experience, enabling users to zoom in on text and scroll left to right like the pages of a book or magazine. In addition, content is personalized to reading style and environment, including settings for direct sunlight and eye strain.
More than challenging Instapaper and Pulse, Scribd is, in a way, targeting Apple’s model, even while it looks to gain traction for its app on the iPhone (a Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Android version is likely to follow soon). Last summer, Scribd offered up its services to publishers who wanted a simple, PDF version of their magazines that could be easily read on the iPad using HTML5, as the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) device didn’t recognize Adobe’s Flash software for viewing images. Scribd didn’t charge for the service, it only took a small share of the ad revenues for titles using its platform.
While major publishers have continued to spend lavishly in terms of money and time on creating app versions of their newspapers and magazines, there’s a realization that not all readers are equal. As they market subscriptions of digital versions of their magazines for devoted readers, part of the pitch of a platform like Float is that they’ll be able to attract new readers as they browse through numerous publications.
Although Scribd did not say anything about whether there would be an ad-sharing deal involved with titles featured on Float, at least at this point, the idea is that the app will serve as a discovery vehicle for new readers (naturally, the app contains sharing buttons for Facebook and Twitter). And as publishers have found, given the wide range of options web users have to access content, they need to be wherever potential readers are.