The other day, one of my coworkers received a press release in the mail from Booksfree.com for consideration in one of our publications. First of all, our magazines have nothing to do with the book world, so I think this company’s target is a little off, but that’s not the point of this post.
Booksfree.com is, according to the release, “the leading source for online paperback and audiobook rentals. The service offers members over 170,000 titles to choose from in addition to 60,000+ A La Carte rentals (no membership required).”
For as low as $9.99 per month, members can have paperbacks and audiobooks shipped to them for free (as in free shipping). Then they keep the materials as long as they want and then ship the books back to Booksfree.com for free (again, the shipping). The $9.99 plan allows the member to have two items out at a time, and plans go as high as $47.99, which allows for 15 items at a time.
Paperback book rentals arrive within 5-10 business days and audiobooks arrive within 2-5 business days.
Now I would think that for most people, they might go another route, and visit their local library, where they can pretty much check out all the audiobooks and books they want for free (provided they are returned on time). Libraries are capable of getting a copy of pretty much any book in the world for their patrons and their isn’t any subscription fee (unless you’re talking about the property taxes that are going to help fund the library).
I can see how Booksfree.com can be useful to people that are incapable of getting out to their local library, for whatever reason, but then many libraries have bookmobiles or other book delivery services for such patrons. Booksfree.com might also be useful to people in remote areas.
When such services are available to the general public, why has Booksfree.com prospered so much? Because what I haven’t said yet is that the subject of the press release was the company’s recent inclusion on Inc. Magazine’s list of the Top 5,000 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies in America from 2004-2007. To qualify for this honor, “Revenue in the initial year must have been at least $200,000, and revenue in the most recent year must have been at least $2,000,000.”
Obviously, people are signing up for, and maintaining subscriptions with this service. The release even hints at other book rental services online. It just strikes me as odd that people would go in for this kind of thing, considering other resources that are available to most Americans. It’s definitely a good thing that people are reading, don’t get me wrong. It’s also good that some American businesses are flourishing in these unstable economic times. It’s just that the thought of starting up or using a Netflix for books kind of business would have never occurred to me. But then, as my wife says, I’m a “library whore,” (until recently I had three cards that worked at five different libraries in the Chicago suburbs) so that might explain it.