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Zola Books is All Hat and No Cattle

zola-books-logoZola Books was the hot ebookstore

story of 2012. They got attention everywhere with their promise of having exclusive content and a unique social reading experience (the free crack given out at the briefings probably helped), but now that a year has passed it now looks like they are nothing but hype.

I caught up with Zola Books today to see how they were coming along, which can be summed up as not as well as they would have you think. I was told that this ebookstore only carries around 50 thousand titles, and that they currently have around 5 thousand registered users. They have recently launched a new iPad app with an improved social reading experience and they have an HTML5 reading app in the works.

That doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment for a company that was going to Replace Google Books, Then Take on Amazon, now does it?

I don’t know which is more amusing, that Zola Books really had these delusions of grandeur or that Digital Book World actually wrote this without any intended snark, sarcasm, or editorial intervention:

Other goals include capturing 1% of the e-book market in the U.S. by the end of next year and becoming the No. 1 e-bookseller in the U.S. in five-to-ten years, according to Regal.

TBH I didn’t believe any of the marketing hype last year, but Zola Books' promise to carry exclusive content did catch my eye.  I was especially interested when they announced that they would release Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, in October 2012. This novel has been on my ebook buying list for at least 6 years now, and I was so eager to get it that I actually broke my rule against signing up for one more ebookstore account.

I tried to buy TTW last month, and that is when I discovered that it is not for sale. And today I learned why.

According to Zola Books, this ebook was briefly released in October and then it was taken down.

Yes, Zola Books first made a big deal over selling content that no one else carried and then they decided to not carry it either.

That is a novel business model, isn’t it? Note that I am not calling it a successful model, just that it is unusual. While most companies would try to sell stuff, Zola Books is experimenting in not-selling stuff. Basically they have developed the concept of "negative space" into a business model.

I cannot help but admire their willingness to experiment. I am not sure that this model will succeed, but it is going to be an interesting experiment.

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Uneducated Guess May 31, 2013 um 3:07 pm

"Other goals include capturing 1% of the e-book market in the U.S. by the end of next year and becoming the No. 1 e-bookseller in the U.S. in five-to-ten years, according to Regal."


"said Joe Regal, a former literary agent who is founder and CEO of Zola."

That explains everything.

Nate Hoffelder May 31, 2013 um 3:33 pm

Yeah, I literally LOLed when I read that. It annoyed the people around me.

Jon Jermey May 31, 2013 um 6:48 pm

Aren’t business plans wonderful?

KarlB June 1, 2013 um 7:44 am

"they have developed the concept of 'negative space' into a business model."

Good one. 🙂 You have to admit they’ve got a nice logo, right?

Nate Hoffelder June 1, 2013 um 8:19 am

That, and an inventive marketing dept, is about all Zola Books has going for it.

joe June 11, 2013 um 8:29 am

Despite urging from her publishers, Niffenegger has withheld ebook rights to the novel since its publication in 2003. But she is now throwing her weight behind a new independent ebook website, Zola Books, through which she is planning to sell the novel later this year.

The author is also writing a 30-page sequel to the seven-million-copy bestseller for the site. It will focus on the life of Alba, the time-travelling daughter Henry, who was conceived with Claire during one of his visits to her life.

Nate Hoffelder June 11, 2013 um 9:16 am

That’s the same shit that Zola Books claimed last year.

Anna Rose June 25, 2013 um 3:21 pm

As of the past couple days, I am unable to even access the Zola Books website whatsoever.

Did they go home and take the ball with them?

Nate Hoffelder June 25, 2013 um 4:18 pm

It works for me.

German Publisher Buys eBookstore, Plans Flat-Rate eBook Service ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels February 25, 2015 um 12:42 pm

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