Tiny Spanish company launches book-sharing site

Mon Jul 4, 2011 8:57am EDT

* Digital book service by subscription

* Free reading with advertisements

* Tiny firm takes aim at giant Amazon

By Cristina Fuentes-Cantillana

MADRID, July 4 (Reuters Life!) - Tiny Spanish firm 24symbols has launched a digital book reading and sharing site modelled 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, told Reuters in an interview.

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 piracy that has plagued the music, publishing, movie and television industry online 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 Amazon.com Inc's Kindle for downloadable books, Barnes & Noble Inc'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 individual title, and because of its integration with social networking sites.

The company will distribute 70 percent of revenue to publishers in proportion to pages read by consumers. Also, publishers will be able to see how many their books are shared and recommended through social 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. We're looking at risk capital from the U.S. and Europe," Grandes said.

(Editing by Inmaculada Sanz and Fiona Ortiz)