The ebook and book distributors Baker & Taylor announced this morning that their ebook platform is finally going into a private beta. They've named their first partner, and it will be King County Library System, an urban system that covers Seattle, WA.
B&T hasn't released much in the way of details about their platform, but I have discerned a few tidbits. Axis360, which was first announced at the ALA conference this summer, appears to be built around Blio. This is an enhanced ebook format that Baker & Taylor launched last fall. While it's not clear how much commercial success B&T has had with Blio, they have had some luck with signing publishers. Blio currently offers titles from most of the major publishers as well as a quite a few specialty and indies.
KCLS was a good choice for a partner. It's one of the biggest library systems in the US, and it supports a population of over a million residents. That population was also why KCLS was chosen as a beta test by OverDrive and Amazon when the Kindle got library ebooks back in September.
So this new system is based on Blio, and that's both good and bad. The good part is that B&T has already released Blio apps for Windows, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 7. And they offer over 95 thousand titles.
But the bad news is that Blio has never lived up to the hype. B&T promoted it as having excellent text to speech abilities, and they still haven't shipped that feature. Blio was also promoted as being user-friendly for the visually impaired, and so far as I know B&T still hasn't released enabled versions of their apps.
But there is still some value to the format. Blio supports richer features than is usually found in Epub, and that means Axis 360 will offer ebooks with enhanced digital content, more interactive features, and a generally richer appearance. Axis 360 isn't quite a direct competitor to OverDrive, the leading library ebook vendor. That might actually be its strength. It offers content that OverDrive does not, and it might appeal to libraries who had decided against signing with OverDrive.
On the other hand, Blio still comes with some hindrances. It doesn't support Epub in any of its current DRMs. Instead Blio uses its own DRMed ebook format. There are no ereaders that support Blio, and that would certainly limit my interest as a library patron. It will also make it more difficult for libraries who have already invested in ereaders and ebooks to switch to Axis 360.
All in all, it's a mixed bag.