Coates to launch Bilbary e-book site

Coates to launch Bilbary e-book site

Former Waterstone's m.d. Tim Coates is to launch Bilbary (, an international online consumer site for the sale and lending of e-books.

Coates is in final negotiations with five of the big six trade publishers, with agreements already in place with "most"  major academic publishers. He said he expects 300,000–400,000 titles—half academic and half trade—to be available on the site when it goes live in the UK, US and Australia either shortly before Christmas or in the new year.

The venture is backed by private investors including John Bartle of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. It operates from a London office in Bedford Square, WC1, with a small team including site editor Amy Riach and technical director Vijay Sodiwala. There are also offices in New York and California, where US trade stalwart Con Sayer is handling publisher relations.  

Coates said the site would "bring the skill of the bookseller and librarian" to the online arena, with panels of booksellers set to offer "shop window" recommendations, and with librarians available to answer readers' questions.

"Readers are going to be the obsessive focus of this site," said Coates. "It won't sell anything else. It's the site to come to for everything, for readers' groups, for recommendations, and it will be linked to Facebook." He added: "The student can get hold of a book you can't get from the university library direct from the publisher. Academic publishers see real potential."

The digitisation of large literature backlists is also a priority for Bilbary.

The site is dealing both on agency agreements and traditional distribution agreements, with publishers set to take 80% of the revenue. A typical charge for lending is likely to be 25% of a book's r.r.p. for a 20-day loan.

Publishers can track sales patterns through the site, and Coates has promised a swift transfer of revenues. "The money can go literally from the customer to the publisher and author," he said.

A long-time library campaigner, Coates said Bilbary would aid public libraries. "Trade publishers don't want to lend at present. There has been huge sales growth in e-books this year and nobody wants to damage that. In time, we think there will be lending, and here is a space where they can experiment.

"The public library service doesn't have to create its own e-digital library by buying speculatively, they can use this as a service. Publishers will be paid for every loan. It could solve the problem, [currently causing a stalemate on e-lending], and then the library service would have an e-book solution. "