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Vancouver e-book start up looks to rewrite future of publishing industry

Darah Hansen

From bitcoin shaking up the traditional world of money trading to BitCurrent’s no-borders approach to file-sharing, there’s no limit to the promise of today’s digital revolution.

Not even that row of dusty books up on the library shelf is safe from our insatiable appetite from all things electronic.

Bitlit, a new app developed by Vancouver’s Peter Hudson and Marius Muja, launched in January and serves to turn traditional books into e-readers with the snap of a smartphone camera.

Its creators bill the technology as the literary equivalent of Netflix.

The company has so far struck deals with more than 200 publishers including Harper Collins, O’Reilly, ECW Press and Greystone Books and has about 30,000 titles in its e-library. Readers can access the books on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iPad, iPhone or other mobile devices.

At a recent meeting with the Irish publishing house, Gill & Macmillan, Hudson says representatives of the company were in awe of the technology.

“It does seem like magic,” Hudson tells Yahoo Canada Finance.

No doubt, publishers around the globe have been looking for a little magic of late. The industry has been struggling to find its way back to profitability in the decade since e-books first came into our lives.

The cost of e-books have sparked raging debates in recent months with retail giant Amazon, known for its low-ball prices, putting the squeeze on smaller publishers who want to be able to set their own price for literary works.

Beyond the cost, many readers simply don’t like the electronic platforms enough to do away with paper, leaving many publishers floating in technological limbo.

A recent study by Washington-based Pew Research Center found most of us – 96 per cent – swap preferences between e-books and print books. Just 4 per cent of readers are “e-book only.”

“Digital books are still painfully ugly and weirdly irritating to interact with. They look like copies of paper, but they can’t be designed or typeset in the same way as paper, and however splendid the cover images may look on a hi-res screen, they’re still images rather than physical things,” wrote English author Nick Harkaway in a post to The Guardian.

BitLit’s endurance has yet to be put to the test. The app, which is free, has garnered about 4,000 downloads to date with the rate of new adoption increasing by 40 per cent every month, according to Hudson.

The app was recently featured of CBC`s Dragon’s Den in early October where it drew two investment offers, though no deals were inked. It’s also been given warm reception among authors themselves, including American Joe Hill, who wrote the best-seller Heart-Shaped Box.

Hill endorsed BitLit in a recent blog post, noting the software “feels like technology in the service of supporting the whole (literary) ecosystem, instead of undercutting any one part of it. If you can go to your local indie, and get the eBook free for your Kindle (or iPad or Nook or whatever) when you buy the hardcover, you don’t have to choose between the big guy and the little guy, or between paper and digital. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game where someone’s win is someone else’s loss.”