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ibooks.com Offers Tech Titles Online
Calvin Reid -- 3/6/00

Adopting an online business model similar to Books24x7 and netLibrary, a Texas-based Web venture has launched a site called ibooks.com, which offers online access to computer reference books at discounts of 20%-40% off the print price. The site has secured $4 million in its first round of funding, including $3 million from TL Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm focusing on Internet technology. The company has received another $1 million in seed funding from a group of six investors that includes Arkoma Venture partners, Murphree Venture Partners and Peter Zandan, founder of Intelliquest Inc.

The site (www.ibooks.com) is a bit different from its predecessors. Unlike Books24x7, which offers password-protected access to a pool of technical reference titles selected by experts, ibooks.com considers itself a virtual bookstore, offering licensed individual online editions that are permanently added to the use'rs online account once purchased. And unlike netLibrary, which offers online editions of trade books to libraries and consumers, ibooks.com is initially focusing strictly on technical reference titles for computer industry professionals.

Jerry Weissberg, ibooks.com CEO, told PW that while the firm will focus on technical reference for now, the company plans to expand its offerings to consumer nonfiction titles including travel, finance and how-to books. He also emphasized the differences between ibooks.com and its competitors: "We think we have a model that publishers are familiar with. We're offering single-volume sales versus group site licenses. Pooling titles from different sources is not a publisher-friendly model. All the books you need are available through ibooks.com, like a bookstore, and you own the books rather than access them through a subscription."

The company was formed by merging two allied Texas-based technology firms, FutureCode and ModelOffice. Veteran online book retailer Barbara Frerichs, who founded the early Web retailer ReadUSA, has joined the firm as v-p of strategic relations. Sean Devine, former v-p of sales at Books24x7, has come on board as v-p of business development and marketing. The new company is based in Austin, Tex., and currently has 70 employees.

Weissberg told PW that ibooks.com allows readers to preview the more than 1,500 titles offered through the site using a keyword search. Search results show graphics and sentences with keywords highlighted. However, until the title is purchased, text surrounding the keyword sentences is garbled. Online titles also offer multimedia capability, sophisticated search tools and the ability to create a customized, fully searchable personal library. Using a password-protected account, ibooks.com members can access books in their account 24 hours a day.

The site also offers free books; reader reviews, personal annotation capabilities and medical and legal reference titles will be available in the future. Weissberg said the site is partnering with technology sites, computing portals and news and information sites to generate traffic. The firm is also discussing bundling print books with access to ibooks.com online editions.
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