The idea behind BitLit is pretty simple: scan the title page of a book you already own, write your name on the copyright page and scan that, too, and within a few seconds, you have access to the e-book version of your book.
In an ideal world, this would work for any book. But the current state of digital publishing isn’t exactly perfect, so while the number of publishers that support BitLit is growing, it remains limited. Some publishers make those e-books available for free, but most charge a fee for the service (most of the time, that’s somewhere between $2 and $6). Others already sell readers a bundle that includes the physical book and a free copy of the e-book through BitLit.
What was mostly missing from BitLit, however, was support from a large mainstream publisher, but it looks like those are slowly coming on board now, too. Starting today, BitLit is running a pilot with HarperCollins that will bring some of that publisher’s books like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Gregory Maguire’s Wicked into the program.
This is still a pilot so there aren’t many books, but it’s a clear validation that BitLit’s concept is gaining traction in the publishing world.
Currently, BitLit has about 20,000 titles in its program, which is 10,000 more than three months ago. Those include most of the programming books from O’Reilly, for example, but also a few university presses and many smaller imprints.
BitLit’s most obvious competitor is Amazon’s MatchBook service — though I’m not sure how many people are actually familiar with that, given that Amazon doesn’t really promote it. MatchBook only works for physical books purchased from Amazon, whereas BitLit doesn’t have any similar restrictions. Amazon has just under 70,000 English-language books in its program. It, too, doesn’t have the rights from many mainstream publishing houses, but while BitLit is trying to work with publishers, Amazon’s relationship with the industry is pretty strained right now.