On Booksprung, Chris Walters reports that a Spanish company named Bestsharer is testing 24symbols, a service akin to Spotify or Netflix for e-books, with an eye toward a June launch. It will essentially be a subscription-based service by which for a monthly fee readers will get access to a cloud-hosted e-book library that they can read as long as they’re paid up. (Also like Spotify, it won’t be available in the US on launch.)
The article also suggests that the service will involve ad-sponsored e-books, and will also be DRM-free. (Not sure how that’s going to work if the books are hosted in the cloud.) And it will also track reader interaction with specific titles.
The Booksprung piece suggests that this availability of information might be the most important point, as it could be quite valuable to publishers and booksellers. 24Symbols will also use it to split up revenue among its content providers based not on views of individual titles, but on actual count of words viewed across all titles.
Michael Wolf of GigaOM suggests that what publishers really need is not a Netflix for e-books, but a Hulu. The distinction being that this would involve publishers banding together themselves to offer their books in such a service, rather than leaving it to a third party.
OK, you ask, why should they do that and not just let, say, Google or Amazon do it instead? Unless I’m wrong, publishers are the only ones with big enough rights libraries of both new and catalog titles to package up in a variety of ways to make this idea interesting. And in an agency-model world, booksellers like Amazon can’t adjust pricing as they see fit, only the publisher can (which is why I have my doubts about startups like 24Symbols).
Of course, if they really followed the Hulu model, this decision to get together would be followed by some of them specifying what devices their books are allowed to be read on, or deciding to pull their books back out because their availability is affecting actual sales.