May 12, 2021

Bilbary Makes Deals with Califa; Two Publishers Agree To Lend to Libraries


Ebook platform Bilbary has inked deals with two trade publishers to lend ebooks, not just sell them, founder Tim Coates told LJ today. Berrett-Koehler Publishers and another mid-level trade press joined about six academic publishers in pioneering the company’s lending model.  “All our rentals will be direct to consumer, but when we partner with a library service they may choose to subsidize the cost from their own funds so the rental becomes a free loan to the reader,” Coates explained.

“We haven’t made a big thing about it because it will be July before it actually works,” said Coates, who predicted that after academic publishers, “Not the big six, but reasonably large publishers will begin to experiment. They’re saying, ‘let’s see what happens. We can always stop.’” Coates predicted the Big Six would follow suit once those experiments bear fruit, but some might not wait that long. “I can’t say which, but one of the big six publishers in London came to us this morning and said, can we do lending in a kind of particular way, which we are going to explore with them now. They were very keen,” said Coates.

In the meantime, Bilbary is expanding its library relationships by partnering with the not-for-profit cooperative Califa Library Group in California. (Coates first met with Heather Teysko, Califa Project Manager, at ALA’s Midwinter meeting in Dallas.) As with Bilbary’s partnership with the State Library of Kansas, the initial offering will consist of a link from a library website to Bilbary’s catalog for purchase.  In this case the Los Gatos Public Library in Silicon Valley will be the test case because, said Coates, Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Library Manager for Adult Services, “was keen to be progressive and to see what can be done.”

Bankhead told LJ, “We are a small independent library in a relatively affluent community, so we thought it might not be too much of a stretch” to offer a for-pay alternative for ebooks that aren’t otherwise available through the library. However, he added, “I am very skeptical about whether anyone would be willing to pay for this content. I was led to believe it was very much more popular than I’m seeing. I’m not risking anything and I’m not required to pay anything, so we’re willing to try it, but I’m not going to endorse it at this point.”

As with Kansas, Bilbary will track purchases made by patrons clicking through from the link and allocate a percentage of the proceeds to Califa, though again as with Kansas, “they said that’s fine, tell us how much there is, but then spend it on the [lending portion of Bilbary’s] program,” Coates said, adding that both the Kansas and Califa library systems want to be able to go to major publishers and “say here are a lot of transactions from library patrons, we are keen to make this work, let’s build some bridges.”

Teysko could not immediately be reached for comment.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.