Saturday, January 06, 2007

Book Swim

Bookswim is being touted as Netflix for books. The service is not online yet, but the premise is identical: you pay a monthly subscription fee, pay no shipping, and Book Swim will mail you the next book on your list.

Funny, except for the mailing part I get the exact same service from the Hennepin County Library by managing my account online and reserving books. I put reserved books "On Hold" so that I can read through the ones I have at home (currently 9 books) before my next book becomes available. Then I remove the suspended hold and lo, my next book quickly becomes available.

I stop by the library on my way home so I don't even go out of my way to stop by the library (except on saturdays, but that's just for pleasure).

Oh yeah, I don't pay for the service my local library system gives me.

The only advantage that I see Bookswim having is that it claims to have New Releases. The local library may have a new release on a purchasing request and thus delaying the arrival of a book which isn't the most popular item, and then the popular items tend to have long hold lists. Want to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it comes out? Well, don't wait to put your hold down because there are already 1502 holds on that book. It might be published this summer and at the moment there are only 26 copies on order (I expect that number to climb).

So, if Bookswim can get me Harry Potter 7 the first week it comes out then maybe there is some merit to the service.


But maybe not. If Harry Potter 7 has 1502 people in Hennepin County, not counting Minneapolis which has its own library system, wishing to reserve the book at least 7 months before it might possibly be released, then why do I think that Bookswim, a nationwide service, would be able to handle the volume needed to get everyone the book they want in a reasonable amount of time that surpasses the free library service.

And then there is the question of how they will make money. I assume most people do not read as fast as I do (10 or so books a month on average), but like Netflix, Bookswim would have to make money on low borrowers because the mailing cost of a book, even shipped media mail (which thus slows down the shipping process) is more expensive than metering a DVD through 1st Class Mail. So, higher shipping costs. The service needs to be cheap enough to get people to want to use it. That would be less than $20 a month, probably closer to $10. But at $10 a month they need people who will rent 1-2 books a month at the most. I would kill the service but I wouldn't be able to have enough books out a time. I imagine. Sure, I wouldn't have to leave the house to get my book, but if you manage your time and reserve books online, you can stop by on the way to or from work to drop off a book and pick a new one up.

If the popular titles will have a waiting list at Bookswim, and also at the library, then I don't see that even that aspect of the service would be of benefit.

I'll stick with the library, thank you very much.

And if I need to purchase a used book, rather than rent a used book I can always use
Paperback Swap
Frugal Reader

So really. Tell me, Bookswim. How does your service benefit me?


Anonymous said...

Something else to consider:

Unknown said...

First, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on BookSwim. In the interest of full-disclosure, I am one of the founders of BookSwim. We do appreciate your comments and to be honest, comments about the problems we face are more valuable than the myriads of comments we get about how great the idea is.

Although I won't be able to answer everything, I hope that I can address some of the concerns that you've presetend. There are several public libraries that are going more high-tech. They have online lending/holding/renewing systems and there are even some library systems that will mail you your books. To them, we take our hats off because they truly are doing a great service. We are not looking for that marketshare, instead we are looking at the locales that do not have these great services.

Regarding plan pricing, you're just about dead on. We're not going to reveal our plans yet, but you're definitely in the ball park. You've also guessed completely right about our use of the Media Mail service, but we're supplementing the issues that Media Mail presents by offering amazing plans for our customers.

All things considered, we don't have every problem fully addressed yet. That's why it's bloggers like you that keep us on our toes! Thanks again and we look forward to you giving us a shot when we do launch. Drop me a line and I'll personally extend you a free trial service!

Joe said...

Lisa: Interesting perspective. Jeanette seems to be talking more to the book swapping sites (of which I did link several) and her points are certainly valid. I know that those swapping sites work because the site probably makes some money on the transaction and the users pay shipping only or some small fee.

I don't know how this would apply to a site like Bookswim because like Netflix, Bookswim does need to purchase the materials which they intend to rent / lend for a fee. In this way they would not be any different than Netflix, except that I don't know how the law works for rental businesses.

On the other hand, I do think some of what Jeanette says in that first link doesn't apply regarding discount royalties in her country. I read a post by Brandon Sanderson (I keep name dropping this guy lately) on his blog regarding royalties and in America it seems that a bookseller can offer a big discount but that means the bookseller is going to make less money. The publisher and author still make the same. Britland might have more draconic royalty laws.

Shamoon: Thank you for posting on my blog. I'm very surprised and honored that you took the time to do so. I will certainly be contacting you regarding that free trial. I am very curious how the service will work. People have suggested Netflix for Books to me in previous years as a start up business (like I'm ready to start a business) and I was not sure about the practicality of of it, but if it will better serve the more rural readers than the urban reader with a modern library, then you might be on to something.

Anonymous said...

Cool, Joe. I will check out Sanderson's blog. :)

Unknown said...

I am the VP of and we have been doing this for over 6 years.