Wiley Grows Again
Words of Wisdom from Kathy Sierra

Netflix for Books…Sort of…

I was once asked, “Why isn’t there a service out there like Netflix, but for books?” One obvious answer is, “because it’s a heck of a lot more expensive to ship books than it is to ship a DVD.” It got me to thinking though…

Why not create some sort of a regional, Netflix-like program? What if you could pay your local bookstore $x/month for the ability to borrow books from them, read them at your leisure and then return them for more down the road? Part of this depends on how much “x” is, of course.

I know, you’re thinking, “we already have something like this and it’s called ‘the library’.” Not quite. The local library typically has only one copy of any given book and quite often, it’s checked out.

B&N and Borders aren’t likely to do this anytime soon, but why wouldn’t an organization like Half Price Books? After all, they’re sitting on a load of inventory at every store, waiting for someone to come in and buy a copy then return to sell it for a fraction of the original price later. They’ve typically got multiple copies of a given book, so you don’t face the checked-out problem you find at the library.

Rather than let all that inventory sit while waiting for a buyer, why not loan it out for a monthly fee and generate more in-store traffic? I’d certainly consider the service for $10 or $20/month.


Ed Bott

In addition to shipping costs, here are some other issues:

1. Size is variable. DVDs fit in nice neat mailers and are a standard size. Books come in all shapes and sizes.

2. DVDs are typically consumed in one sitting that takes a couple hours or less. It can take days or weeks to read a book.

3. Books are much more fragile than DVDs and are used in environments where they're likely to be damaged. Spills, torn pages, broken spines all do damage. You can turn a DVD over dozens of times and the person at the end of the chain is not likely to notice. But if you're the tenth person to read a book, you're gonna know it.

The idea might work locally if you could return a book within say 14 days and get back 40% of what you paid for it if you're a member of the club and the book is undamaged. So you buy a new book for $30 and return it and you get back $12.

Still a tough business!

Joe Wikert

Hi Ed. I wasn't thinking of it as a limited number of days type thing, which is still too similar to the local library. I was looking at it as more like the Netflix model where you can have up to so many books out at a time, indefinitely. If it takes me two months to read this one I'm not penalized, but I can't take out any more than the maximum number of books at the same time.

Wear and tear is indeed an issue, but I've seen plenty of softcover books at the library and they seem to have held up just fine.

These books are just sitting on shelves collecting dust. What's the harm in trying out a new model, one that can coexist with their existing one?

Darrell Raines

Hey joe, first time visitor to your site, but I thought this would be interesting to you.

NetFlix for books it is.


George Burke

I'm glad I've stumbled upon this post because as founder of a new book rental company, BookSwim.com, I'm proud to announce our BETA launch in early March. www.BookSwim.com is an Online Book Rental Library that will help offset the cost of buying books through a Netflix rental model. See you there!


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