There's nothing like marketing to a captive audience. TV commercials make use of that idea, and pretty soon a new startup called Rook will launch a service which offers free ebooks to users so long as they remain at their current location.
The Guardian reports that later this spring Rook will release an app which will provide "location-based free access to ebooks". Under Rook's system, readers will be able to read an ebook for free so long as they remain at the coffee shop, commuter, train, or other location where they first opened it. Should the reader leave, they'll have the option of buying the ebook.
Rook is at the London Book Fair this week, where they plan to announce a couple publishing partners. The service is launching this spring in London and NYC.
This is a nifty idea which I've been wanting to see someone turn it into a startup ever since B&N announced the Read In Store program in 2010. That program lets Nook owners read for up to an hour a day in Barnes & Noble stores, but B&N never hit on the idea of expanding the program to include other locations (airports, coffee shops, libraries, etc).
B&N's program is still running, and there have been similar programs on Spanish, French, German, and American rail systems which let you read ebooks for free. So far as I know only the French effort is widely available; the other programs are limited to specific lines.
And now Rook is turning the idea into a retail operation.
I don't see what is innovative about building a business on a 5-year-old idea, but then again I also don't see how Rook is going to cover its costs. They're saying at the LBF that their revenue will come from retail:
— Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) April 13, 2015
I just don't see that happening.
I would expect that a reader might find a book in Rook's app and then go on to buy it from their preferred source, be it a local bookstore, Amazon, or some 3rd-party app. I don't foresee a significant number of readers tying themselves to yet another reading app, and if I'm right then Rook would be better offer sending readers to other stores and collecting a commission.
But even if I am wrong Rook is still going to have to compete for a reader's attention. They'll have to fight against the ebooks, games, and other content a customer carries on their mobile device. Those customers may be a captive market but they've already been captured by someone else, and that is going to make Rook's job that much harder.
So how will Rook proceed? I don't know, but I've reached out to Rook. I will post their response.
image by craigdfreeman