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Expanding Options for Ebooks
Posted On April 2, 2012
The market for ebooks continues to evolve so quickly that it’s a challenge just keeping up with announcements—new book-related startups, ebookstores, ebook production technology, subscription platforms, and etextbook platforms. Publishers, distributors, and readers all have their share of challenges in dealing with the new technologies, tools, and formats. Here are some of the recently launched services that are aiming to redefine the book experience.

Purchasing/Renting Ebooks With Bilbary

Tim Coates, a former managing director of bookseller Waterstones, launched Bilbary—an online paid-for library that enables readers to log in and download books onto their computers, phones, or tablets. Offering about 350,000 titles, its first titles are academic books and journals aimed at students, with a broader range of fiction and nonfiction expected to follow. It launched first in the U.S. in March 2012; it has plans to launch later in the U.K.

Bilbary plans to serve as a place for book lovers, booksellers, publishers, and librarians to discuss favorites, recommend new titles, and purchase and eventually rent books. While the rental model has been viewed as controversial and a challenge to struggling libraries, Bilbary says it is dedicated to the “preservation of literature and libraries, and has already commenced work with libraries and publishers to develop agreements that can benefit all parties in the long run.”

The site is in beta, and the user discovery experience is kludgy at this point. PaidContent reports that “the user browsing experience is going to have to become infinitely better for consumers to be able to use this site in any real way. If that part can be handled, however, the site has high ambitions and is out the door before the oh-so-delayed publisher-backed Bookish has even launched.”

Bookish, an ambitious joint venture from Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group (USA), and Simon & Schuster, has been in the works for some time, but it has still not launched—lots of buzz but no delivery. We covered the announcement of the planned site in May 2011 in a NewsBreak. It plans to offer a recommendation and discovery engine plus a bookstore.


In January 2012, Apple unveiled a suite of tools for the education market that it said would “reinvent textbooks.” While the tools are free and have generated a great deal of interest for the area of custom publishing, they continue Apple’s well-known tradition of a closed, proprietary architecture. And, a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Apple’s software, called iBooks Author, lacks easy tools for multiple authors to collaborate on a joint textbook project. Since most books aren’t written in isolation, the article reported on two new publishing platforms that seek to make that group collaboration easier—Booktype and Inkling Habitat.

Booktype is free and open source and allows teams of authors to work together in their browsers to write sections of books and chat with each other in real time about revisions. Entire chapters can be imported and moved around by dragging and dropping. The finished product can be published in minutes on e-readers and tablets or exported for on-demand printing. Booktype also comes with community features that let authors create profiles, join groups, and track books through editing.

Since Booktype is installed and hosted on a server, all content belongs to the author(s). According to the website, users are free to “give any license to any book. No platform or data lock-in, no hidden fees, no restrictive service agreements.?”

Inkling Habitat creates a cloud-based platform for the professional market. The company says it is “the world’s first scalable publishing environment for interactive content.” One of its most important features is real-time, cross-platform content updating. Now, publishers and developers using Inkling Habitat can change content and instantly push just those changes to everyone who owns the impacted title. These quick and simple updates make it easy to keep Inkling content current, free of charge. Inkling books can be read on any device with a browser thanks to a new HTML5 format. 

Mashable reports that “Inkling was never much interested in making books. What they’ve actually been focused on is a book maker that publishers can use to create interactive books by themselves—a tool that could turn interactive digital book publishing on its head.”

The article also points out that “Inkling competitors such as CourseSmart, Kno, and Chegg offer libraries that number in the tens of thousands, but their books usually resemble those on the Kindle: digital versions of their paper counterparts, give or take a highlighting or search feature. While this format is ideal for novels or text-exclusive material, it often falls short for content such as textbooks or instructional material that benefit from interactive diagrams, photos, and videos.”

Inkling, which is based in San Francisco, was founded in late 2009 and is backed by Sequoia Capital with significant minority investments from McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Vook Platform

After nearly 4 months in private beta testing, Vook launched on March 26 this year a version of its cloud-based ebook production and distribution software. It allows users to embed images, videos, and other multimedia into ebooks to create enhanced ebooks. Vook lets you quickly create, edit, style, and publish an ebook without any special software required. When you distribute through Vook, you keep 100% of your royalties.

The Vook platform is meant to be easy enough so that aspiring self-publishers can use it but robust enough for enterprise use. With a Vook premium account, you can distribute your titles through Vook to Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble in one click or download distribution-ready files that you can distribute yourself. The Vook store offers a catalog of mostly consumer titles in a variety of formats with click-through to several purchasing options.

Unlike Apple’s iBooks Author, the tool isn’t free to use. For single users, Vook offers pricing that ranges from $79 a month for limited access to basic services, including ebook production, storage, and distribution, to $299 a month for greater access to services. For companies that want to make Vook their ebook publishing platform, enterprise pricing is available. 

A Boon for Book Lovers?, which originates from Denmark out of Ventus Publishing, was established in 1988. Ever since its founding, the company has focused on publishing education-related books for business professionals and students. In 2005, the company made a strategic leap and became the “first book publishing company in the world to focus 100% on free ebooks.” offers a range of more than 1,500 free ebooks for university students, business professionals, and globe trotters—admittedly a fairly limited offering at this point. Books can be downloaded directly in PDF and are currently available in seven languages. reports it has grown globally by more than 500% when comparing January 2011 to January 2012, and the company expects more than 50 million downloaded ebooks in 2012. is currently headquartered in London with offices in New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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