SAN FRANCISCO — The online document-sharing site Scribd is taking a page from Netflix’s success story as it sets out to create the world’s largest subscription service for digital books.
The opening chapter in Scribd’s quest began Tuesday with an e-book subscription service that will boast thousands of titles published by HarperCollins before July 2012. HarperCollins becomes the first of the five largest US publishers to join a service vying to create an alternative to buying individual titles.
Scribd will charge $9 per month for unlimited access to most of HarperCollins’ back catalog, as well as an assortment of books from smaller publishers. Recent bestsellers from Harper Collins aren’t included, although customers will be able to buy new titles individually on Scribd’s site.
‘‘I feel we are moving into new uncharted waters, but that’s what innovating and reading is all about,’’ HarperCollins chief executive Brian Murray said. ‘‘I feel like this is the right deal with the right partner at the right time and we are going to learn.’’
Subscribers throughout the world will be able to browse through books using Apple’s iPhones and iPads, mobile devices run on Google’s Android software, and any personal computers with Web browsers. A subscriber will be able to stop reading a book on one device and pick up where he left off on another.
‘‘For power readers, this is going to be like a dream come true,’’ said Scribd CEO Trip Adler. ‘‘We think this could really change the book publishing’s business model and change people’s reading behavior.’’
Scribd could help publishers cultivate an alternative to the electronic bookstores run by Amazon.com, Apple, and Google. Unlike those technology powers, Scribd is small. Adler, 29, has raised $26 million in venture capital since he started the San Francisco company six years ago.
Scribd began testing its subscription service with a few small book publishers earlier this year. Scribd says the number of subscribers has been rising 60 percent each month, although it won’t disclose how many paying customers it has. Scribd says it has 80 million users who visit its site to read an eclectic mix of books and documents that include research papers, essays, and legal briefs.
HarperCollins and authors will be paid based on how much their books are read. Adler declined to be specific.
Scribd aims to create a book industry version of Netflix Inc.’s online video service, which has more than 37 million subscribers who pay $8 per month to watch movies and TV shows on any devices with an Internet connection. Digital subscriptions also are winning loyal fans on music services run by Pandora Media Inc. and Spotify.
The popularity of those services has made it clear subscriptions are one of the most powerful ways to hook consumers, said a Forrester Research analyst, James McQuivey.
Publishers have so far shied away from subscription services, partly because they fear monthly fees won’t offset lost sales of printed copies. But e-readers and tablets are making publishers more receptive.