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Rook Retreads Location-Based eBooks Idea as Innovative Business Plan

8023855132_8e4610690c_oThere’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.

Coincidentally, Rook is up for an innovation award at the London Book Fair. They were also nominated for a similar award at Futurebook’s conference last fall.

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:

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

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Michael Anderson April 13, 2015 um 1:51 pm

Totally agree with you Nate – I had gotten my wife a Nook then a Nook tablet, and she brings it with her whenever we go to B&N and uses the free reading feature as a great way to preview new books.

But buying inside of this other app? Why not just grab a sample from Amazon or B&N? I just don’t see it.

Nate Hoffelder April 13, 2015 um 3:39 pm

Yes. And that brings up a whole other point: Rook is going to be competing with the ebooks and games you already have on your mobile device. That’s gotta be tough.

puzzled April 13, 2015 um 7:50 pm

The real question is the content. Which publishers? How are they compensated?

Do the publishers get paid when you start reading, when you hit a certain percentage of the book, or only when you buy it? What if you finish the book while in the original location?

If they don’t have the big 5 on-board, then is it even worth trying to find a book from their list?

Nate Hoffelder April 14, 2015 um 1:23 pm

And that’s not all. How are the coffee shop and other locations compensated for the use of their Wifi?

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