Tim Coates has been an writer and publisher in the U.K., but he is best known as the former head of the Waterstone’s bookselling chain and now he is moving into a new frontier as the founder of Bilbrary.com, a new Web site that will sell e-books from publishers the world over. Coates plans to start a public beta test in a few weeks with titles from both North American and U.K. publishers. At present, he expects 400,000 e-books to be available at launch from both academic and trade houses.
Coates is well aware of the hegemony that e-bookstore powerhouses Amazon and BN.com exert, but he believes the e-book market, particularly outside of America, is only in its infancy with opportunities for new services. He is also claims that Bilbary will be publisher, customer, and library friendly. Publishers can set their own prices and change them whenever they want. Publishers can also sell or rent e-books by chapter and lend them out for a limited period. Coates sees the lending option as a particularly attractive option for expensive reference titles that publishers could lend at a reduced rate. To facilitate lending through libraries, Bilbary will let publishers set a “borrowing” price less than the sale price and include a time limit (Bilbary will set a 20-day limit as a default). Publishers will receive 80% of sales with Bilbary taking 20%. E-books will be made available in as many formats as possible.
At launch the site will focus on English-language titles, but he plans to add foreign-language e-books from publishers worldwide. No public domain titles will be sold, self-published titles will be limited and no free books will appear on the site.
Bilbary will offer reviews from reliable sources, as well as recommendations from booksellers, librarians, and teachers. The site will also include opportunities for publishers to blog and to post promotional material. Readers will be able to suggest titles that they would like to read as e-books but can’t find on the site.
It sounds like a good idea, but freezing out self-published titles seem short sighted and discriminatory. I’m surprised that a dedicated public library campaigner like Tim Coates is focusing exclusively on big publishing houses, but time will tell.