Spanish company’s digital-book sharing is free, with a catch

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Spanish company’s digital-book sharing is free, with a catch

Tiny Spanish firm 24symbols has launched a digital-book reading and sharing site modeled on European digital music service Spotify, aiming to generate income from publicity and subscriptions.

Users can read books for free if they accept viewing display ads in the margins, or pay a monthly fee to read without commercial publicity. The service was launched on Thursday and is currently available on computers and telephones.

“The advantage for users is they can read for free, if they view a bit of publicity,” said Aitor Grandes, chief executive of the small firm.

The company aims to attract 8.5 percent of its users into premium subscription accounts.

Grandes said 24symbols - the name refers to the Greek alphabet - would help fight the online piracy that has plagued the music, publishing, movie and television industries by keeping material on servers rather than allowing it to be downloaded to individual consumer devices.

“If you make available an easy-to-use service with reasonable prices people won’t spend time going to pirate networks to download things,” he said. “Time is money.”

24symbols will be a small player attempting to take on some giant rivals, such as’s Kindle for downloadable books, Barnes & Noble’s digital books and reading services already available on Apple’s iPad.

Google is also working on an online books project. Grandes said 24symbols is different from all those competitors because of its subscription model, which means people don’t have to pay for each title, and because of its integration with social networking sites.

The company will distribute 70 percent of its revenue to publishers in proportion to pages read by consumers. Publishers will also be able to see how many of their books are shared and recommended through social networking sites.

Currently, 1,000 titles are available - almost all classics in the public domain - in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Dutch, and Grandes hopes to reach 30,000 titles by the end of the year. 24symbols is also awaiting Apple’s approval for its iPad application.

Grandes said he was seeking financing.

“To market a bit, to keep having a quality product and be able to get international content we will need to get another round of financing,” Grandes said. “We’re looking at risk capital from the U.S. and Europe.”

Reuters Life!
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