The Blio reader is a fascinating digital publication platform, seemingly poised to grow rapidly across multiple devices. Since medical textbooks are such a prime target for digital publishing, one can almost guarantee that the Blio Reader will be how a significant proportion of tomorrow’s medical students and health professionals will be reading.

For those not familiar with Blio, we previewed the e-reader a little while ago, at a time when information on the product was scant and many other sites only were able to report on what was divulged through a few interviews or based on the product web site.

Since then, more information has come to light, further showing this e-readers enormous potential for the medical world and why the medical community should be on notice.

Baker & Taylor

Early on, the folks at Blio partnered with Baker & Taylor, one of the largest book distributors in the world. Since Baker & Taylor already has a large back catalog and deep relations with publishers across the spectrum of genres, this ensured that Blio would launch with a massive library of titles, one of the hurdles for any publishing platform.

This pedigree also means Blio understands that publishers are as much their customers as are readers. The rise of low cost internet retailers such as Amazon and it’s e-reader, the Kindle, has put tremendous pressure on publishers. They are fully aware that a business model for trade and educational books that relies on readers paying high prices for tangible hard bound volumes that are used for only a limited time may not survive long. Yet, any additional cost and/or labor to convert the long tail of back volumes could quickly make the process of issuing low cost digital versions of texts a losing proposition for publishers.

In contrast, Blio is promising a very enticing value proposition to publishers. All they have to do is provide the print-ready PDF of the book (which they already have) and Bio will convert it to its own format at no cost. This preserves layout, images, pagination and the index. Once converted, it can be read using the Blio application on Windows & Macintosh desktops and laptop computers as well as mobile devices, including iPhone and iPad. Downloading the application will be free for consumers.

Business model

In terms of the business model, publishers provide the volumes at wholesale prices to Blio and it acts as a retailer through its online store, allowing the publisher to set the price. This is very different from Amazon’s model where it re-licenses books from the publisher, effectively acting as a publisher itself. Amazon demands that it set the price, often at a crushingly low point for the publisher (see this article) so that it may grow the Kindle’s market share. As a side note, Blio’s model is reminiscent of Apple’s. This more traditional wholesale model enabled Apple to sign 5 of the 6 major book publishers before the iPad was even launched.

Blio states that numerous contracts have been signed or are under review with major publishers. The first round of releases will be in trade books as soon as Q4 2010, and they are planning the second major push into education, which will include clinical references.

The real potential for Blio Reader will not arrive, however, until publishers “enhance” volumes with multimedia and interactive elements. This is where the medical potential is evident, since medical text often has a huge reliance on graphic art. In addition, a software development kit (SDK) is planned for Q4. These and the technological aspects of Blio will be covered in the upcoming part 2 of this post.