Online subscription services have proved successful for entertainment businesses like Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify, but other than O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online, which is geared to professionals, trade e-book subscriptions have gained little traction. Joanna Stone Herman is aiming to change that with Librify, a startup geared to book clubs and heavy readers that combines social reading, recommendations à la Goodreads, and a Book of the Month Club–style subscription service for one discounted e-book a month with a fully stocked e-bookstore that works across devices. She’s also working on a way to use Librify to drive customers for print to their local independents.
That may seem like a tall order for a business that began less than a year ago, will have a closed beta test in July, and will launch in the fall. Former Macmillan president Brian Napack, a senior adviser at Providence Equity, said of the concept, “She’s got a shot. She’s got an idea that has some merit. The book business needs to modernize, and this seems to be a good step in that direction. The social reading aspects [of Librify] are quite compelling.” For him, part of what makes Librify exciting is that it satisfies the aspirational aspect of reading, the idea that people want to read more and want to talk about books.
Last month’s Publishing Hackathon, which announced its winner at BookExpo America, showed that Herman can transform an idea. Together with Rick Joyce of the Perseus Books Group, she translated the hackathon concept from the tech world and turned it into a book industry tool. “The hackathon came from the same place as Librify,” said Herman, who quit a “cushy” job as an investment banker in media at DeSilva+Phillips because she wanted to bring subscriptions for e-books to book clubs over the Web. “Book of the Month Club is a proven model that is ready for a 21st-century makeover. People who understand the publishing industry must be in the next wave of change.”
“To say Starbucks is just about coffee is to say that Librify is just about books,” added Herman, referring to the experience that the retailer brought to coffee. To deepen the book experience, Librify is developing a Web site (Librify.com) where book clubs can schedule their next meetings and select their next books, as well as software that enables them to read an e-book and share their comments with other club members as they read. With a staff of 16, including some programmers in India, Herman’s worked on creating a platform designed to fulfill the needs of her own book club—and five million others around the U.S. Individuals who don’t belong to book clubs can also subscribe. People can sign up now at Librify.com to receive an invitation to the site’s beta later in the summer.
The Web site’s visuals allow subscribers to relax in a virtual leather chair in a book-lined library filled with shelves of books, or a more modern setting. There’s even a virtual bottle of wine. Friends can share booklists via bookshelves, and gift e-books. In addition to a discount on a monthly book, subscribers will be able to access promotional materials from publishers. Herman said she is still working on pricing.
Herman’s attempt to create an online subscription service that doesn’t devalue e-book pricing appeals to publishers. “I think Librify has everything it needs to be successful, and I’m incredibly excited to be working with Joanna,” said Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, one of a number of publishers that will be working with the company. “She’s smart, got a clear target audience with a defined need, and a well-thought-out product and road map. She’s got a real shot at success.”