If you were looking forward to a Netflix style of ebook rentals, you're going to have to wait for a bit. I caught up with Tim Coates, the founder of Bilbary, here at TOC. He said that his new site isn't going to focus on renting ebooks, like originally planned. It will be launching as an ebookstore, and the first ebook rentals won't be coming for some time afterward.
Why? Because when it came to signing a contract, publishers just weren't that interested in the idea.
Bilbary caught my eye last fall because it was going to offer something new: ebook rentals. As you probably know, the major publishers are growing less and less fond of library ebooks. Rentals could have offered them a steady stream of income while offering better value to customers. (I, for one, don't need to own all the books I read.)
Unfortunately for me, it's not working out. Tim has met with and signed 7 of the 8 major agency publishers (Agency 6 plus Wiley, Zondervan). Bilbary also announced a deal today with Ingram to supply ebooks from hundreds of smaller publishers. So Bilbary is well equipped to open in the US market on March 7 (UK is scheduled few weeks later).
But it's only going to be an ebookstore at first. After it's been up and running for few months, Bilbary will add some rentals, but those will almost all come from textbook publishers.
The trade publishers just weren't interested in the idea of renting ebooks, and that's because ebook sales are too good at the moment. They're making a nice profit with a system they understand, so they see no reason to potentially undermine it by introducing rentals to the market.
According to Tim, ebook rentals might happen next year or the year after. The ebook market is still growing, and publishers probably won't be interested in new business models until after it levels off. On a related note,Tim noted that it was easier to get publisher buy in than he expected. The pubs he'd met with liked the site design, and they especially liked the analytics that Bilbary will provide.
So do you know what we have here? If you know anything about the history of content industries then you probably recognize the situation. Publishing is behaving like a legacy industry that is content to rest on its laurels. They're making money with what they know works, so they see no reason to try something new.
But that might change if print revenues keep dropping or if ebook revenues level off. Then the major publishers might be inspired to get out of their comfortable rut.
Do you know what I think? There's never a glacier around when you need one.
image By acameronhuff