There's been growing attention on ebook subscriptions lately, with Amazon launching Prime Ebooks and several small startups coming out of the woodwork. But now it looks like the first successful launch will be coming out of left field.
Tim Coates, author and former m.d. of the Waterstones bookstore chain, announced today that he is about ready to launch Bilbary. This is going to be an ebook rental service, and it's due to launch in either December or January with around 400 thousand titles (half academic and half trade). Current plans include a simultaneous launch in the US, UK, and Australia, and that's going to have an interesting effect on ebook availability.
"Readers are going to be the obsessive focus of this site," said Coates. "It won't sell anything else. It's the site to come to for everything, for readers' groups, for recommendations, and it will be linked to Facebook." He added: "The student can get hold of a book you can't get from the university library direct from the publisher. Academic publishers see real potential."
Coates is working out deals with 5 of the Price Fix 6 publishers, and he reportedly has agreements already in place with most major academic publishers. The service will be following the early Netflix model, not the late one. To be more exact, they're charging for each rental individually (like any movie rental service of old). The projected rental cost is around 20% of retail, with publishers getting 80%. But they're also going to be selling the ebooks.
That's good for them and I'm sure the publishers like it, but I was really hoping for a flat rate service (like Netflix is now). On the other hand, Bilbary's charges might tell us something about what publishers want. Bilbary might not have been able to get publisher to agree to allow for a flat rate plan, or it might not have been affordable (for Bilbary).
Format support includes Epub and PDF, and availability will depend on what the publishers provide. The loan period will be 20 days. You'll be able to read online or download the ebooks and read them on an Adobe DE compatible ereader (everything but the Kindle, basically).
I've been writing a series on library ebook alternatives, and this is one that I'll definitely need to keep an eye on. I'll try to get back to them when more info is available.