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Summary:

Two new book-related startups that launched in beta this week seek to redefine the book buying, browsing and selling experience.

Screen Shot 2012 03 23 At 9.28.09 Am
photo: Jellybooks

Two new book-related startups that launched in beta this week seek to redefine the book buying, browsing and selling experience.

A host of reading-related startups to launch recently — Subtext, Readmill, Findings — focus on social and sharing but don’t touch on the down-and-dirty, selling-more-books part.

Bilbary and Jellybooks are different. Both have UK-based, book-publishing-backgrounded founders and neither has Silicon Valley investors or big funding. I’m not saying that’s a good or bad thing — just that the sites are in early stages and somewhat barebones for now.

Bilbary, founded by former UK bookstore chain Waterstones managing director Tim Coates, focuses on an issue that big trade publishers need serious help with — selling e-books direct to readers. “It’s fascinating to see the predicament that publishers are faced with,” Coates told me in December. “It’s kind of like the last act of Hamlet, standing in the wings while everybody kills each other and they’re all going to lie dead.” Except hopefully most of them will still be alive and selling e-books direct through Bilbary. In beta, the site is available in the U.S. and has 343,604 e-books available for sale from non-agency publishers. The site will add about 100,000 more titles from agency publishers in coming weeks, Coates told Publishers Weekly, then expand to titles from international publishers, self-published and out-of-print books.

Eventually, Bilbary plans to expand to e-book rental, browsing, advanced search options and features like curated “shop windows” created by booksellers and librarians. It’s a big task, and if the company is able to sign up enough publishers and actually launch an e-book rental initiative, the site could help publishers compete against Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN).

For now, the browsing and discovery experience is terrible — with titles like The World Market for Parts of Electrical Apparatus for Switching or Protecting Electrical Circuits, Board, Panels, Consoles, and Bases Used for Electricity Control: A 2011 Global Trade Perspective ($520.62) nestled up against The Runaway Countess ($6.08) and Evolution of the Primate Brain ($234.50). Categories are much too broad — click “Fiction” and you get 79,155 e-books with no way to drill down other than by author. Yes, it’s in beta, but 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.

Next up is Jellybooks, which focuses heavily on book discovery. Founder is Andrew Rhomberg, who was previously director of content acquisition at txtr. The home page is simply rows of book covers, designed to facilitiate book discovery the way it would happen in a physical bookstore. When a user clicks on one of the covers, he or she can read the first 10 percent of the book, DRM-free, and can share that sample with friends and across social networking platforms.

At the core of Jellybooks’ business model is half-priced group buying deals. Those are not available in this release, but in a future release the site will offer e-book deals and bundles.

Beyond that, the site will not focus on selling books directly at retail prices. Rhomberg calls Jellybooks “the ultimate show-rooming experience,” where users discover books and then buy them elsewhere (except for the deals available through the site). Each book sample has buy links to various retailers at the end.

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  1. Thanks for this piece about Bilbary.  Your comments about the search and indexing are fair and reasonable.  You should see big improvements in the next few months as more titles come on and we teach the search engine how to work sensibly.   The site will remain beta for quite a long time, as we have a full program of developments to implement.  Tim Coates

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