In the second of an ongoing series of articles spotlighting book business–related AI startups, we take a look at Shimmr, an automated book advertising service, and Likewise's Pix, a chatbot and app that offers book recommendations.

Shimmr promises affordable automated book advertising

In any industry, Nadim Sadek would be a bit of an anomaly: He’s an Irish-Egyptian businessman who has worked in advertising; bought and transformed an inhospitable Irish island, Inish Turk Beg, and launched a premium single-malt whiskey named after it; and ran a YouTube motorcycle reviews site, Boss Bikes Club, before turning his attention to the book business. His latest company, Shimmr, launched last year, aims to automate ad creation for books.

The company, which is based in London, uses AI tools to create targeted advertisements for search and social media channels, primarily Google and Meta, at a cost of $75 per month per title. Ads primarily take the form of banner or display ads, featuring an AI.-generated image or series of images accompanied by taglines.

While the ads may seem conventional, Sadek argues that his company’s superior technology gives it an edge over other AI-generated advertising platforms. “What we do is use AI to consider the psychological profile of a book and match it to the frame of mind of a specific audience, ensuring a more effective connection between readers and books,” Sadek said. "We call it 'Book DNA,' and it involves not only knowing the characters and plot of a book, but the values, interests, and emotions of the book."

Asked how this could be possible, let alone effective, at such a low cost, Sadek explained that the ads are purchased in such a way as to optimize value and sellthrough. “We now have the ability to target customers very efficiently,” he said. He added that the real value for the company comes from “unlocking value in the backlist,” where tens or even hundreds of thousands of publishers’ titles lie dormant: “Some 95% of books don't receive dedicated advertising support due to the high costs involved.”

Shimmr has attracted nearly 150 publishing clients of all sizes from the U.s/. and U.K., where the company is based, and is in discussion about its services with all of the Big Five publishers. “Everyone who has worked with us so far has renewed their monthly contract with us,” Sadek said. "AI is an opportunity, not a threat." To support the launch, Sadek put out a book, Shimmr Don’t Shake, discussing how AI might impact the publishing business; it is published by Forbes Books in the U.S. and by Mensch Publishing in the U.K.

The company has attracted a who's who of publishing in advisory capacities since its launch. Richard Charkin, who owns Mensch, has joined Shimmr as an advisor, as have former Penguin Random House CEOs Markus Dohle and Madeline McIntosh. Consultant Emma House, advertising execs Bill Muirhead and Jeremy Sinclair, and investor David Kershaw are also advisors.

The high-powered team signals Shimmr’s lofty ambitions, which are generating results: last week, the company was named “AI Startup of the Year” at the StartUp Awards in London. Sadek said that the company is looking to expand its services to non-English-speaking publishers, and to place its advertising on platforms including TikTok, Reddit, Pinterest, and LinkedIn: “We’re going to anywhere we can find new audiences for books.”

Likewise’s Pix offers cross-category book discovery

Likewise, a Seattle-based company backed by Bill Gates's private office, aims to offer a more efficient means of book discovery through its AI-powered platform and community-driven app and chatbot, Pix. Pix’s unique selling point is its ability to offer cross-category recommendations—including books, movies, podcasts, and TV shows—based on both community and personalized interaction with the site and service.

“The more you use Pix, the better it becomes at giving you recommendations,” Ian Morris, CEO of Likewise, said, noting that Likewise has a community of more than six million members across its various platforms; on average, he added, users read 42 books a year through the platform. Users can generate personalized book lists and the site, in turn, offers personalized and targeted newsletters. “This level of engagement presents a significant opportunity for publishers and authors to connect with dedicated readers and build lasting relationships,” Morris said.

That said, Pix—which the company refers to as a “personalized entertainment companion”—is not exclusively focused on attracting avid book consumers. "You're reaching people who maybe don't think of themselves in that way,” Jodi Rosoff, director of publishing partnerships at Likewise, said. “It’s not just the one’s who say, 'Oh, I'm a book nerd, I'm going to BookCon, I'm hanging out in Barnes and Noble, and I'm reading all the blogs.’ It's people who are interested in TV, movies, and podcasts, and don’t yet know they are interested in books.”

Rosoff argued that this strategy allows publishers to target readers based on their interests across multiple forms of media, increasing the chances of discovering new titles that resonate with them. "I think there's really nothing else like it that puts books right next to other content that you might be looking for,” she said.

For more information on the intersections of the technology and publishing spaces, visit our Book Publishing Startups Database.