Scribd, a digital distribution, document storage and book discovery platform, is launchng a subscription e-book service that will give users access to an unlimited number of books for $8.99 a month. The all-you-can-read service can be accessed by all smartphone, tablet and laptop device platforms and will offer thousands of backlist books to subscribers—including a majority of the HarperCollins' backlist—as well as the opportunity to buy titles directly.

In an interview at the PW offices with Scribd cofounder and CEO Trip Adler and Scribd v-p of marketing Julie Haddon, the two said the service is working closely with HarperCollins to offer Scribd subscribers access to thousands of its titles. Adler said the Scribd subscription service has been in operation since January in a soft launch and he said the HarperCollins titles “gives us a critical mass of books.” Adler said the service “has been growing by 60% each month.”

In addition to offering “a majority” of the HarperCollins backlist (titles go up to mid-2012), Scribd’s subscription service at launch will offer titles from a wide variety of independent houses such as Rosetta Books, Barrett-Kohler, Sourcebooks, Workman, Kensington and E-Reads. Adler said many “publishers are reaching out to us” and "giving us a full catalog of their books." The service will focus on backlist for now, Adler said, and he expects to work with other Big Five publishers eventually. “It’s a new model and everyone is being cautious,” but he also emphasized that “we think it's going to change [reading] behavior, consumers can just read what they want and it’s easy to browse.”

Launched in 2007, Scribd offers an easily accessable library/distribution platform for digital content, books and more, and attracts more than 80 million users each month. The basic service offers access to more than 40 million documents, much of it free and uploaded by its users. It also offers an embeddable reader that can be posted on any Web site and searched for content. The subscription service will have a recommendation engine and it allows taking notes. There is a Scribd app, the usual social sharing and the service supports illustrated books, ePub and PDF versions.

Users pay $8.99 per month and can access their content through any mobile device, laptop or desktop as well as via the web. The Scribd model allows nonsubscription users to sample free excerpts of the subscription titles, but Scribd subscribers can logon on the online site to get full-text. The new subscription model also allows users to read up to 10 titles offline as long as their subscription is current.

Adler said payments are made to publishers every time a book is “read,” a trigger that is determined by a formula Adler described as “a complicated analytics system.”

Interest in the subscription model is in the air after the recent launch of two services, Oyster (which offers unlimited access for $9.99 a month and has a smaller quantity of Harper titles) and eReatah (its cheapest plan is $14.99 per month for access to four titles). E-Reatah offers about 90,000 titles. In an interview with HarperCollins chief digital officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi, who has often expressed her support for the subscription model, she said “a lot of things aligned and we have two companies willing to discuss terms that offer the right value to our authors.” Restivo-Alessi described Harper’s relationship with Oyster, which launched in September offering access to 100,000 titles for $9.95 per month, as a “pilot program,” but also said, "their app is fantastic." Restivo-Alesso said that Scribd offered “bigger scale and reach.”

Restivo-Alessi emphasized that consumers “can purchase a title directly via Scribd or subscribe,” and said she wanted to “encourage discovery of the backlist. We’ve done research on consumers and we know that once someone is an avid fan, there’s no limit to what they’ll buy. With the loss of so many physical stories there’s a need to make sure the backlist is visible to consumers.”

Asked about the possibility of using the subscription service to test original content or even distribute frontlist books, Restivo-Alessi said, “not yet, we need to walk before we can run. We also need access to data. Then we’ll refine our models.”

Adler also noted that Scribd will provide HarperCollins and all the publishers with data on reader behavior. “We give publishers a lot of data, we’re open and we want to be publisher friendly. Subscription is changing the economics of the business.”