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Scribd launches ebook rental service

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Scribd has been a go-to site for sharing documents on the web for years now, but today, the site is making a major pivot: it's launching an ebook rental service that's built right into its existing platform. The site will still have the same functions as before, allowing users to host, share, and read documents — but those have always by and large been open for anyone to read. Now, Scribd is also home to the majority of HarperCollins' US catalog of books, which will only be accessible through a $8.99 per month subscription. It'll be selling the books too, including a number of titles that aren't available to rent.

Lack of major publishers could make for a rocky start

Though the service is officially launching today, GigaOm reports that Scribd actually began publicly testing it back in January without HarperCollins' involvement. Scribd also has the support of six smaller publishers, and while its new deal with one of the industry's big five is important, the absence of the four others could still make the service a nonstarter for many voracious readers. For those who choose to subscribe, the books should at least be simple to start reading: Scribd's iPhone, iPad, and Android apps will all allow access to its library of subscription titles. They can be read on the web as well, and many will also be available to download.

Despite the shortcomings in Scribd's library of ebooks, it seems that the company wants to get an early start in a space that several others now seem to be eyeing. Just last month, a startup called Oyster began offering a similar ebook subscription service for $9.95 per month — also with HarperCollins in tow as its only major publishing house. For now though, no service has managed to pull together a majority of the major publishers. And until services like Scribd and Oyster can add more titles into their catalogs, the best option may still be buying an ebook or heading down to the library.