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Bilbary Follows in the Footsteps of OverDrive in Turning Libraries into Retail Channels

Bilbary is back in the news again today and I am irked.

The upstart ebookstore has been getting a lot of attention in a lot of shallowly researched articles (like this one in Forbes or a new one today over on DBW) for a program which enables libraries to direct patrons from their catalog to various ebookstores. The participating libraries earn a commission on any ebooks sold, money which they can use to fund their collection. It’s little more than an affiliate program, and as such it’s not all that interesting or new.

It’s also not Bilbary’s idea. OverDrive did it first and they do it better.

OverDrive first proposed this idea back in May of 2011 – before Bilbary even existed. It’s called WIN (want-it-now). They launched it in February 2012, and as of early July OverDrive had over 100 library systems signed up. WIN also does a lot more than simply direct patrons to ebookstores, but that’s a post for another time.

Now, OverDrive  might not be terribly popular, but I think they deserve credit for thinking of this idea first. They also deserve credit for doing it better. With Bilbary’s program, patrons only get to buy ebooks via Bilbary. But with OverDrive, patrons can be directed to any of 300+ booksellers, including several of the major US ebookstores (Kindle, Nook) as well as Indiebound, BooksonBoard, Kobo, Waterstones, Powell’s, Nokia (in 7 countries), and more.

So we have 2 competing programs, and you might think there’s some debate about which is better. I disagree. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather buy ebooks from my preferred ebookstore rather than be forced to set up a new account at Bilbary.  And I already have an account with Amazon and B&N, so if I want the ebook the steps to buy it are short and simple. And I don’t have an account with Bilbary, and nor do most people. So if I am directed from a library website to Bilbary I am probably not going to buy an ebook.

Even though the OverDrive system is better, I suppose it won’t do libraries any good unless they are already OD partners. And that brings me to today’s news.

Bilbrary is in the news today because they signed Califa, a large library network based in California. Bilbary got this contract and not OverDrive because Califa is working to build their own library server platform – one where they host their own ebooks and don’t pay monthly fees to OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, or anyone else.

Califa can’t work with OverDrive because of their plans to be independent. I think that’s a good move, but I also think they’d be better off setting up their own system to send patrons to ebookstores rather than signing with Bilbary. It’s not just that I don’t want to open another account; I push for not working with Bilbary because the ebooks they sell don’t work on the Kindle.

Yeah, that’s an important point, don’t you think?

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Joe Tarquin October 8, 2012 um 6:23 pm

"OverDrive first proposed this idea back in May of 2011 – before Bilbary even existed"

I’ll think you will Bilbary did exist before May 2011 – type in Bilbary Ltd and look for their incorporation date.

Seems to me like a very decent idea and one that will help libraries.

I think it’s your article that appears a bit shallow and poorly researched…….

Nate Hoffelder October 8, 2012 um 6:32 pm

The incorporation date isn’t a good way to track when a company begins. If it were then there the tens of thousands of startups which incorporate and then go under before even pitching their first product would arguably have existed. I don’t think they qualify.

By my measure a company doesn’t exist until they start promoting themselves. Got a date for when Bilbary got their first financing? That would be a good date to point to.

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