Scribd's unprofessional (and unethical) business-practices

Part I - Introduction

One of the biggest challenges with doing anything online is that it is difficult to hold someone responsible for an act and bring them to justice in case something goes wrong. So if some random person from some part of the world abuses you on Facebook or Twitter, there's nothing a normal person can do apart from blocking the person and hoping that its over. Similarly, if you do business online with someone sitting in another part of the world, and something goes wrong, chances are you wouldn't have the energy or resources to take legal action against that person, unless you are a big businessman. There are many individuals and organisations who understand this and take benefit of this. Here's one story.

Throughout my life, I've loved to help people. One of the ways has been sharing my notes, readings etc. with fellow students and juniors. It is a practice that is followed all over, and is quite beneficial for the young students as they can focus on actual learning and its applications instead of worrying for exams. I just took this a step further a few years back when I started the 'Super-Notes' series.

The 'Super-Notes' series was started with a focus on two reputed banking examinations in India - JAIIB and CAIIB. The exams are given by bankers in India. Most of whom have a 6 day work week, so insufficient time to study. I created the super-notes series to present concepts in a simple visual manner making it easy to understand and remember. This was well-received, and the documents published years ago still get thousands of visits during the exam season. (Click here to view)

Throughout these materials have been made available free of cost - the students have to pay nothing for them. There are ads on the sites, but negligible revenue from them. What I get out of the process is satisfaction of helping people and also helps me keep abreast of latest online business methods - maybe someday I have an idea where this experience helps.

Part II -  The Scribd story

Back when I started, one of the first sites I came across was Scribd. Because it was free, somewhat easy to use and had some analytics reports available I started using it. My profile today has more than 300,000 views and almost 2000 followers.

All was going well. I even published my novelette 'Look into My Eyes' on Scribd instead of Amazon. Amazon didn't allow me to list the book below $2.99. There were no sales - I half-expected it. Again, writing is a hobby and I don't consider myself to be very good at it. 

These days I'm into Psychology. And, my 'pro-social attitude' caused me to do what I've been doing for a while. So I started creating Super-Notes, and already uploaded some. And, then there were all the things that students couldn't find - so I brought everything together to one place - 'Psychology Learners'.  A huge project for a part-time hobbyist!

Then I thought of doing an experiment - the time came for assignments. I uploaded solved assignments for students - the university has strict guidelines so it was with the assumption that students would use it as a guideline, for those extremely challenging parts and not copy as is. If they copied, they were liable to get a straight zero - 0 - cero. The idea was also to shake up those unethical entities who run the businesses of selling assignments, by providing them for free once. To add an additional layer - I didn't upload it together, it was question by question - to extract the maximum effort from the students. They should come to the site and take help only if they can't do it on their own.

To make the experiment even more interesting I simultaneously uploaded full versions on Scribd as paid - and gave the students the option to buy in case they couldn't wait. Will the students pay or will they wait? If they paid, I would refund the money, so they were still not paying - but they didn't know it :)

But to my dismay, it was Scribd that unexpectedly messed things up. They took away my seller rights. There was no warning or notification. I logged in to check and realize the seller tab is not there. I ask their customer service - there is no response for 2 days, and then there's a scripted response. There was no intimation of where the problem lay - which document(s) was the concern, which clause of the user contract was being violated - absolutely no information. As unprofessional, as can be. If this is how they behave with users who have more than 380,000 views, god bless the new users. Inspite of repeated questions and a request to talk to the legal team, there was no information - they just stopped responding and marked my request as closed (they did it several times earlier too, and I had re-opened it).

Fed up with them, I thought I'll see what was going on - so I logged into the first profile I had created on the site (I had lost the login details so had to create a new one, but one day I remembered the details - but didn't use it as I already had the other one running well.) and uploaded the assignments. Because these were the last documents, I expected them to have a problem with these. Nothing happened for some time - but the documents started to sell. As expected, most students didn't pay. They were doing it on their own and only when facing a challenge coming to the site. Only a handful - in single digits the last time I checked, paid. 

Then again one day without any warning or notification they took away the seller rights on this account too. I asked them why and what will happen to the earnings so far. I haven't got a response yet from them, unprofessional as they are. By usurping the money (paltry sum - around $15 or so - but imagine doing this with hundreds and thousands of accounts, daily) they also moved into the domain of unethical.
Now, if someone from Scribd is reading this - you are requested to make sure that all the transactions that happened on my account are cancelled and the earnings refunded to the buyers. 
The accounts in any case will be wrapped up once I have some time, as I have decided to move to one of your competitors.