App partners with HarperCollins to digitize your old print books

BitLit has landed a deal with the publisher to allow readers to get their print books into an e-book format.

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    Visitors look a e-books at the book fair in Frankfurt, central Germany, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009.
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Many book enthusiasts, at one time or another, have found themselves arguing the benefits of printed books versus e-books, and vice versa. There can be no doubt that both have their good points: e-books are cheaper and more portable, while printed books don't have software glitches and don't run out of batteries.

BitLit hopes to find some in-between ground by offering discounted e-books to customers who already own a print edition.

The app has just landed a deal with HarperCollins to test their service with one of the largest publishers in the country.

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According to its website, BitLit works simply enough. First, you take a photo of the title page. Then, you write your name on the copyright page and photograph that. You are then sent links to an e-book version of the title, which you can download at a heavy discount.

The problem with BitLit is that its library, so far, is very small. Still, it's growing rapidly. According to TechCrunch, BitLit only had 10,000 titles in its library three months ago. It has since doubled to over 20,000.

BitLit's deal with HarperCollins involves only a handful of books so far on a purely experimental basis. The publisher will release a new title every week as part of the pilot program to see what sells best, according to the Bookseller.

"We're going to start experimentally trying to find which titles will resonate," said Peter Hudson, CEO and co-founder of BitLit, to the Bookseller. "What kind of books are going to bundle well? We know that technical books and other nonfiction do quite well. We know that reference books do quite well. But when it comes to fiction and trade, we don't know exactly which books are going to do best. So we're starting out with a few to see which ones resonate."

Landing HarperCollins, even in an experimental stage, is a pretty big deal for the app. The publisher is considered one of the "Big Five" publishing houses, along with Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster, which dominate the publishing industry in the US. Of the five, it's least surprising that HarperCollins made the deal. According to BetaBeat, the publisher is one of the most willing to adapt to new digital ventures. It was one of the first to allow its titles to be offered on digital subscription services Oyster and Scribd.

Still, it's only one down, and four more to go.

“We’re certainly speaking with most of the big publishers, and we’re hearing some positive things,” said Hudson, but was unable to disclose any further information, according to BetaBeat.

It was a lot of work to get the publisher on board with the app. Hudson told the Bookseller that he would find HarperCollins representatives at book conventions and repeatedly give them more refined pitches with a more complete product each time. According to Betabeat, adding a "login through facebook" button was what finally won the publisher over.

Though still small, BitLit has had a great deal of growth in number of subscribers. Their partners seem to have received some benefits as well: smaller publishers Angry Robot and Village Books saw their sales double on books that sported a sticker that advertised a free digital version from BitLit, according to BetaBeat.

While most of BitLit's titles will not be free, the e-books currently offered with the service will only set the customer back between $1.99 and $2.99 per book.

Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.

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