Nearly three years ago, Liberty Media wanted to acquire Barnes & Noble. Now it appears that the media conglomerate has had enough and will sell most of its shares in Barnes & Noble. In the meantime ,the number of businesses trying to muscle in on Barnes & Noble’s traditional territory, trying to reshape the relationship between book publishers, retailers and readers, is growing constantly.
Today a new breed of start-ups wants to turn book buyers into book consumers. Once, the two were analogous — unless, trekked back and forth to your local public library to borrow books. Unlike movies, where rentals of VHS tapes and, later, of DVDs, had become standard by the 1980s, “renting” books never caught on as a business model. So while consumers have long gravitated to, say, Netflex as an alternative to a bricks and mortar Blockbuster store, the ability to send digitizedbooks to an e-book reader hasn’t been followed as rapidly by a “rental book” model.
Three companies are battling for readers and market share: Entitle Books, Scribd, and Oyster. you pay a flat fee and you can then download books from their library.
“It’s all about bringing in a new audience of readers, by bringing content to them on the devices they use,” he explains. Putting an array of 100,000 or so books at the fingertips of Oyster users on their Apple iPads or iPhones and enabling them to sample at will — as many books as they choose at a flat fee of $9.95 a month — means that in aggregate these Oyster subscribers end up paying more than they would have otherwise to read books, and funneling more than they would have otherwise to the bottom lines of publishing companies. There are reasons to doubt that we’ll ever really have a “Netflix for books.” First, for most casual readers, the value of a monthly e-book subscription for $8.95 or $9.95 is less obvious than Netflix’s $7.99 rate for unlimited streaming. Also, we consume books differently than we do music or television or movies. That doesn’t mean that we don’t consume them digitally — simply that as readers, we seem to value retaining all kinds of different options.
Sales of e-books topped those in print” for the first time two years ago. They are still buying books, not just viewing them as downloads. And some of us are still mixing and matching: buying some from bookstores as hardcovers or paperbacks, selectively borrowing from libraries, choosing which books to add to e-readers and scrutinizing these new services to decide which might best fit our needs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all world — yet.