An update on the previously discussed BookSwim, which now has “a few hundred” members. (Surely champagne corks are popping in investors’ boardrooms.) It came as news to me that there is an extremely similar company, Booksfree.com (disclaimer: the books are not actually free), that has been in operation for seven years. From Publishers Weekly (“Netflix Book Model Draws Competitors,” by Lynn Andriani):
Burke and Siddiqui said they are looking to bring libraries on as customers, at a reduced rate, to expand libraries’ inventories. The company is working on a pilot program with one of its local libraries, but would not release the library’s name. The founders also want to include publishers in their venture, since as Burke said, “It’s very burdensome for us to have to purchase all our inventory; it’s very costly up front.” He and Siddiqui would like to embark on a revenue-sharing program with publishers, wherein they would pay publishers each time one of their books are rented. However, Burke has not approached any large publishers yet.
Any time you’ve got a company founder complaining in print about his business model, you’ve got to wonder how things are going. Never mind the vague and secretive plans to for major improvements. The idea of turning libraries into customers seems like a page from a self-help guide: find your greatest enemy and make them your friend. Is it a stroke of evil genius? Or a hail-mary pass?
Booksfree.com’s longevity surprises me. And they seem to be doing some business, claiming to have shipped 40,454 packages in April. (I hope that doesn’t include direct-mail solicitations.) But if there is indeed room for one NetBooks, can there possibly be room for two?