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Scribd in deal with HarperCollins for subscription book service

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SAN FRANCISCO -- There is Netflix for online videos and Pandora and Spotify for streaming music by subscription.

Now technology startups are launching subscription services for digital books as an alternative to the stores run by Amazon.com, Apple and Google.

Online document-sharing service Scribd announced Tuesday its own bid to shake up digital books, saying it will offer thousands of titles from News Corp.'s HarperCollins in its bid to create the world's largest digital subscription service.

HarperCollins is the first of the five largest U.S. publishers to join Scribd. Scribd Chief Executive Trip Adler said in an interview Monday that he is negotiating with the other four, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

How it works: Scribd will charge $8.99 a month for the service, which will offer unlimited access to titles published before July 2012. It will also offer books from smaller publishers.

HarperCollins and authors will get a cut of each book read. It's not clear whether the monthly fees will be enough to make up for lower sales of printed books.

Subscribers will be able to browse books from personal computers, Apple's iPhone and iPad and mobile devices running Google's Android software. They can stop reading a book on one device then pick up where they left off on another, Adler said.

Scribd began testing the service with a few small publishers 10 months ago, and has dramatically increased its number of subscribers, Adler said, but he would not be more specific.

Of the three sources of revenue for Scribd –- advertising sales, content sales and subscriptions –- subscriptions is already the largest and fastest-growing, he said.

"Going forward we are focused on subscriptions," Adler said.

Scribd has 80 million users who come to its service to look up all kinds of documents from research papers to legal briefs.

Now it's looking to turn those users into paying customers through what has proved to be a lucrative model: offering anyone with an Internet connection the ability to subscribe to content. Netflix, for example, has more than 37 million subscribers who pay $8 a month to watch movies and TV shows.

The popularity of that model naturally extends to books, Adler said.

"The result is a new experience for reading books for consumers. Once you are in a subscriber, you can read all the books you want," Adler said. "Just as it can be addictive to be in a real world bookstore or library, it’s the same on the Web."

Scribd does not plan to stop at books.

"We see ourselves as the world’s digital library," Adler said. "That can be a lot more than books. We do want to expand to other types of content: sheet music, magazines, user-generated content. But for this launch, we are focused entirely on books. We think the market is ripe for disruption."

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