The New York Times

May 8, 2003 - Online Diary - Section G , Page 3 , Column 3

Rent A Book

Sally Kirby, a retired accountant in Cincinnati, reads more than a dozen books a month, mostly novels by big names like John Grisham. She doesn't buy the books, nor does she rent them from a library. She rents them on the Internet.

Ms. Kirby is a member of a site called Similar to the online DVD rental service Netflix, it charges a monthly fee of $6.99 to $14.99 to rent up to six paperback novels (not electronic ones) at a time. There are no due dates of late fees. When members finish the books, they return them in a prepaid shipping envelope.

Since its founding in the fall of 2000, has signed up more than 5,000 subscribers purely through word of mouth, said Doug Ross, president and chief executive. He expects membership to double this year and the company to turn a profit by 2004. But couldn't readers go to a library?

"You can't beat the price of the library," he explained. "But we have the titles people want and the convenience for those who, for whatever reason, don't go to the library," for example, readers who are homebound or live in rural areas.

Although if offers more than 38,000 titles, the site has attracted mostly romance and mystery fans. A whopping 90 percent of its members are women. "I don't read a whole lot that doesn't come from Booksfree," Ms. Kirby said. "For what it would cost me to buy two books, I'm reading 12 to 15 a month from them. I'm a real believer." Indeed, she has even become an investor in the site, which is privately held.