As one publishing executive noted at a recent panel, although the industry is often cast as beleaguered in the media, there is certainly no shortage of new startups trying to break in each year. Over the course of the last several years, PW has written about dozens of startups that are hoping to bring something new to the book market. To see how some of those startups have fared, PW checked in with more than 30 publishing-related ventures that launched within the last few years and found that most are still optimistic about making a go of it in the new book business, though more than one has tweaked its original business model.
Launched in January 2011 by journalist Evan Ratliff, programmer Jefferson Rabb, and author/editor Nicholas Thompson, the Atavist produces and sells long-form journalism, with stories that range between article length and book length. The Brooklyn-based startup’s eponymous flagship publishing arm releases one piece per month. The media-rich stories are read either online or via the Atavist app, and are also available as text-only versions on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook. In September 2012, the Atavist announced a partnership with Barry Diller, film producer Scott Rudin, and former Picador publisher Frances Coady to form a multiplatform book publishing company. Originally launched as Brightline and renamed Atavist Books, the venture will release its first title, a novella by Karen Russell, next March. From the outset, the Atavist has sold its technology to larger companies like TED, the Paris Review, and the Wall Street Journal, and has now expanded on that concept by developing a product based on its Creativist platform. Released in beta mode for individuals last summer, Creativist allows independent authors to use Atavist to publish stories, and it’s priced in tiers: an author can publish one story for free, or an unlimited number of stories for $10 a month. A branded iPad and iPhone app (enabling sale of the stories to consumers) goes for $250 per month. Ratliff anticipates bringing Creativist out of beta mode in early 2014.
Biblioboard was launched in August 2012 as an app and e-publishing platform that offered libraries and others the ability to sell or give away a variety of bundled content from their archives. But over the last year, the company has refocused the platform as a solution to the problem of library e-book lending. In 2013, BiblioBoard launched its ReadersFirst campaign, adding an e-pub reader to the app’s technology (to give users a unified reading interface across all kinds of content) and licensed “in-demand” content from publishers. It now offers libraries and their patrons simultaneous checkout e-subscriptions to a growing database of e-book content. “Libraries can subscribe to BiblioBoard, and we provide an Oyster-like experience to the reader,” says BiblioBoard chief business officer Mitch Davis, referring to the recently launched e-book subscription service. Publishers, he says, get a percentage of the revenue from library annual subscriptions and, with renewals, get a recurring annual revenue stream. In December, the Massachusetts Library System signed on for a pilot program with 51 libraries. Patrons will have e-lending access to 30,000 e-books and other materials. “We license large pools of in-demand content, like graphic novels,” Davis says, noting a deal with comics publisher Bluewater Productions for more than 700 graphic bios—“rather than just offering public domain research content. And we’re adding dozens more publishers.” Davis expects to have 2,000 libraries signed on by the end of 2014.
Launched in 2011, BiblioCrunch began as an e-book production and distribution platform for self-publishers, before being retooled in 2012 as a digital editorial services marketplace listing more than 500 professionals. Founder Miral Sattar, a former journalist and Time Inc. project manager, switched her focus to building a database of skilled publishing professionals (from editors and designers to programmers) who can sell their services to publishers or self-published authors. She says the site has “done really well this year,” noting that it has more than 10,000 subscribing authors—BiblioCrunch is free but subscribers get access to a concierge that walks them through e-book services— and that the number of registered professionals has risen to more than 700 (vetted for quality—Sattar says that “a few have been kicked off”). After breaking even in 2013, Sattar plans to hire more staff in January, and she intends to subsequently add online chat to the skills marketplace, and to reintegrate e-book production services back into the platform. While consumers can buy books via the site, Sattar says BiblioCrunch will primarily be “a place to showcase e-books” rather than sell them, and it will focus on teaching self-published authors how to market and promote their books.
Bilbary was launched in December 2011 by former Waterstone’s chief executive Tim Coates, with the aim of selling e-books to consumers and libraries. By late 2013, Bilbary was carrying e-books from the Big Five publishers in both the U.S. and Europe, as well as e-books from more than 7,000 publishers. In all, Bilbary now has over 1.3 million e-book titles on its site, and gathering the titles “is a building block in our development,” Coates says. Although Coates would like to sell e-books in overseas markets, the company is currently offering titles in the U.S and U.K. only. Bilbary’s titles can be read on any device, and under its terms, publishers receive 80% of sales, with Bilbary taking 20%. In an effort to encourage use by libraries and library patrons, the company features a lending option. Coates says he hopes to soon announce cooperative ventures with a number of library systems around the world.
In January of 2010, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil officially unveiled Blio at the Consumer Electronics Show. The much-anticipated e-reading platform and digital storefront aimed to take e-books from the era of black-and-white E-Ink dedicated readers to full-color, full-featured glory, including multimedia and new digital tools. Less than three weeks later, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad and the iBookstore. And the rest, as they say, is history. The tablet era had begun, and the major e-book retailers, including Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble all had their own powerful—and proprietary—platforms, all but shutting down Blio’s path to success before it ever really got started. Still, Blio continues, most notably as the e-reader supporting Baker & Taylor’s e-reading platform.
Founded by Internet entrepreneurs Josh Schanker and Nicholas Ciarelli in early 2012, BookBub is a daily deal site for e-books based in Cambridge, Mass. BookBub functions as an advertorial, where an editorial team selects books, which are then deeply discounted (by at least 50%) for a finite amount of time for its subscribers. The publisher or author pays BookBub a fee for the placement, which depends on the popularity of the category of the book’s listing and the price of the book (many are offered for free, and most are $2.99 and below). The company works with the Big Five publishers, smaller houses, and many self-published authors. In early December 2013, BookBub hit the two-million-member mark.
Originally conceived as an e-book reading, retail and social connection platform for the Christian community, BookShout has revamped its business model since PW first encountered the venture at SXSW 2012. Founded by Jason Illian as “a group interaction reading platform,” BookShout quickly refocused, looking beyond the Christian book market to the mainstream book economy. Today Illian called BookShout, “a comprehensive direct to consumer platform for authors or publishers to self-promote and market their titles,” and acknowledged that “we have shifted over the last year.” BookShout is still used as a Facebook-like reading platform (it can be integrated with the real Facebook to show off a user’s book reading and more) that allows users to form online book clubs, buy, read and comment on e-books within the BookShout App. Now the venture focuses on three key areas of growth. They include special and bulk sale e-books, in which BookShout works with publishers to deliver branded giftcards and e-book donations, with “more of this coming in 2014,” Illian said. There’s also BookShout promotions, in which the venture works with publishers or self-published authors to distribute e-samples of books—giving away as many as 30,000 promotional e-books—and gathering names so that later these users can be offered e-books for sale. Finally BookShout works with a variety of partners to help them sell e-books via their own Web sites. “Instead of selling using Amazon and losing a customer, we help them set up retail sites, they control their pricing and get to know the consumer,” Illian said, “We share data and help grow their businesses as a partner.”
Launched in June 2011, Byliner was one of the first dedicated “short-form” digital content providers to come onto the market, with both original and archived stories (although its original focus was on delivering long-form narrative nonfiction journalism, the company launched an original fiction program in December 2011). Now, with 26 full-time employees, Byliner has steadily been expanding its content offerings, as well as the access points to that content. The company currently offers subscription options, and, in December 2013, it acquired Seesaw, the consumer app creator. Additionally, Byliner has been growing its Originals program, and has added original stories by, among others, Ann Patchett, Richard Russo, Jodi Picoult, and Margaret Atwood. To complement its existing iPad app, Byliner launched an iPhone app at the end of December 2013.
When Palo Alto, Calif.–based Coliloquy released its first four book apps in January 2012, its focus was on developing choose-your-own-adventure titles that could be read only on Kindle E-Ink devices. Nearly two years and more than 15 projects later, the company has been steadily moving toward more children’s and middle-grade books and apps. “When we got started, [children’s] was such a small part of the electronic market, our early focus on women’s lit made sense,” explains Coliloquy founder Lisa Rutherford. The change in strategy was cemented this summer when the company worked with Ridley Pearson to develop Kingdom Keepers Insider. The app allowed the author to reach out to fans to help him write the seventh and final book in his popular YA Kingdom Keepers fantasy series. Collaborating with Pearson and developing its own young adult and middle-grade titles has given Coliloquy insight “about how, where, and why young readers engage [with apps], and has put us in a great position to work with leading authors and publishers on some pretty amazing new projects in 2014,” Rutherford says. Another strategic pivot was to move beyond Kindle. Coliloquy’s platform is now fully integrated with all e-readers, mobile phones, tablets, and the Web. The shift will allow the company to release its first children’s picture book app early in 2014.
Copia, an e-book reading, retail, and social networking platform launched in 2010, has been working to refocus its mission, a move that included dropping its own line of hardware to focus on social networking features (in-book note taking, customized content, online study groups), which have made it attractive to the educational market. Over the last year, the firm has continued to focus on “ed tech” aimed at the K–12 and higher education markets, according to Copia Interactive executive v-p Ben Lowinger, and has launched new services in the U.S. and in foreign markets like Australia. Working with the Australian Copyright Agency, Copia developed Learning Field, a new subscription service that will eventually supply “tens of thousands” of Australian students with school content aligned to the Australian national curriculum, all for a single fee. “They get grade-leveled content and teachers get additional classroom materials,” Lowinger says. In the U.S., Copia has launched a K-12 pilot program with the Los Angeles Unified School District that integrates customized content with paid content aimed at students. In higher ed, Copia entered into a partnership with the Nebraska Book Company, aka Neebo.com, which will use the online platform to provide retail access to books and other content at more than 240 campus bookstores that it serves. Copia is also working on a pilot program with Hunter College in New York City that will allow it to disaggregate textbooks, breaking them into more affordable chunks of useful information. “Students get the content they need,” Lowinger says, “and publishers get revenue.”
Daily Lit, a service founded in 2006 that sends short installments of literary classics to users via e-mail, merged with digital publishing house Plympton in February 2013. Jennifer 8. Lee and the novelist Yael Goldstein Love, the founders of Plympton, are now DailyLit’s publisher and editorial director, respectively. “We needed a direct-to-consumer path,” says Lee. “DailyLit had that because it had a mailing list. We melded the content with a base of readers.” DailyLit is now, according to Lee, the “consumer-facing” brand, while Plympton remains devoted to producing its own serialized fiction. In December 2013, DailyLit released its first bundle of stories, You Don’t Look Like Your Picture. The company is now channeling its energy into a mobile reading app, which Lee expects to launch in beta in February.
The Digital Public Library of America
When Google began scanning library books in 2004, the program set off alarm bells. Could one for-profit company soon enjoy a lock on a large part of our cultural heritage? With that in mind, a coalition of library leaders, technologists, and archivists in 2010 created the blueprint for what would become the nonprofit Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)—an “open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources” that draws on collections from the nation’s libraries, universities, archives, and museums. The ambitious plan certainly had its doubters, but in April, under the direction of executive director Dan Cohen, the DPLA launched as promised. Users can peruse more than 2.4 million items via a powerful search function, as well as create timeline and map views. There is even a free mobile app. Early reviews have been positive, with the DPLA site landing in Time’s roundup of the 50 best Web sites of 2013.
The way Electric Yarn founder Swanna MacNair first described her company to PW last January was as a “cross-platform consulting” firm. The company has since evolved; MacNair says she made a “slight pivot,” and that Electric Yarn is now a “new-model content studio.” MacNair, who previously worked as a producer and a book packager, was initially focused on setting up projects for brands and celebrities that incorporated a multitude of platforms and products (in other words, story-based ideas that could potentially unfold through everything from books to merchandise, to TV shows, to webisodes). Mostly, EY has been striking deals. One of the company’s notable projects is for the Goggles (the two-person team of “creators” Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons at Atavist Books), developing an interactive storytelling venture set in the Arctic called “Chasing the Sun.” Additionally, Gary Hoenig, a founder of ESPN the Magazine, joined EY as, per MacNair, “an adviser and content consultant.” MacNair says she is also currently in the process of raising funds to “accelerate our ability to scale and add more IP projects to our slate.”
Canada-based Enthrill, launched in May 2011 in Calgary, Alberta, creates gift cards for e-books that can be sold in bricks-and-mortar stores. Grocery chains Safeway and Co-op have been selling the cards in their stores in Western Canada, and a few U.S. and Canadian independent bookstores have been carrying the cards with titles from more than 20 Canadian and U.S. publishers. Starting this spring, Enthrill is set to begin offering the cards in 320 Walmart stores that serve the English-speaking Canadian market. Cofounder Kevin Franco says that the Walmart deal is helping to attract some new and large publisher clients to the program. Over the past year, Enthrill announced that Open Road would use its platform for consumer and corporate e-book special sales and promotional distribution. And in June at BookExpo America, the company launched its new Endpaper Editor, a cloud-based software that publishers can use to control their direct group and corporate sales through device-agnostic delivery.
Launched as a public beta in 2011, eReatah started as an e-book subscription service with three tiers of monthly pricing, giving customers access to up to four books per month. In December, eReatah changed its name to Entitle, lowered its prices slightly, and moved from a subscription to an e-book ownership business model. The revamped service continues to offer a three-tiered pricing plan. Now users can access two books per month for $14.99, three books a month for $21.99, or four books a month $27.99, and they own the e-books and continue to have access to them once their subscription has ended.
“Our campaigns are different from the usual library advocacy,” says John Chrastka, founder and director of EveryLibrary, a nonprofit Library Political Action Committee launched in 2012. EveryLibrary provides grassroots electoral support and works to raise money to help libraries win local elections with funding issues on the ballot. “We focus our campaigns on the librarians—we’re people focused—not on the institutions,” Chrastka notes. And it’s working. Chrastka says that in 2013, EveryLibrary provided support for six successful ballot initiatives that raised over $9.2 million in tax dollars in support of library programming and services. EveryLibrary’s ROI—for every $1 donated it secured more than $1,500 in library funding—is impressive. In 2014, Chrastka expects EveryLibrary to be involved in 25–30 ballot initiatives that could provide as much as $100 million in funding to libraries around the country—funding that will directly impact library book purchases. The group solicits donations from the publishing industry, and he emphasizes that he doesn’t need a lot of money to be effective—a $1,000 donation can have a huge impact. Chrastka says he’s received a number of anonymous publisher donations, but hailed reference house Rosen Publishing for its “very public” donations to the group.
There is no question that the Internet has made information more ubiquitous and accessible than ever before. But who vouches for the quality of that information? In 2012, Dan Whaley founded the nonprofit venture Hypothes.is, in an effort to “leverage the strengths of the Internet to improve the quality of information we consume.” In essence, Hypothes.is aims to bring “crowd-sourced peer review” to sites across the Web by offering a browser-based commenting platform that can be used to add notes to various types of content, including news, journal articles, blog posts, and e-books. The project is ambitious, for sure—but it’s gaining momentum. The W3C, the standards organization for the Web, is adopting Hypothes.is as a primary collaboration platform for its members. In 2014, the organization hopes to secure additional funding, which it will use to work with scholarly societies and journals to “refine the academic peer-review process.”
Librify, begun in Feburary 2013 and currently still in beta testing, is a startup tailored to book clubs that merges social media with a Book of the Month Club–style subscription service. “We started Librify with the goal of bringing elements that have proven successful in other areas of digital media to the digital book space, including social media, shared reading, and subscription,” says CEO Joanna Stone Herman, who oversees Librify’s 20-person team. According to Stone Herman, the New York City–based company has signed up many major publishers and “brought in a major strategic investor to join our seed round, which we will be announcing early in the new year, as we gear up for our private launch and rollout.”
Since officially launching its Volume E-Book Delivery system for major platforms at BEA in 2013, Pasadena, Calif.–based Livrada has developed its own HTML5 e-reader app, which works on all smartphones and tablets. The app, founder Leonard Chen explains, allows the company greater flexibility in branding e-book deliveries according to each customer’s preferences. It also enables Livrada to distribute an unlimited number of e-books directly from publishers. “Publishers can sell their books directly to corporate clients without going through a retailer,” notes Priscilla Ng, director of business development. The launch of its bulk distribution platform occurred about one year after Livrada’s entry into the e-book gift card business, through which it offers gift cards via retailers. Chen remains confident that the company can grow both businesses. “We want to enable e-books to be sold everywhere,” he says. Soon, World Book Night U.S. is expected to officially announce that Livrada will make available for download on April 23 a proprietary e-book original containing eight short original fiction and nonfiction pieces written by three booksellers, three authors, and two librarians, respectively.
Oyster is a New York City–based e-reading startup that provides consumers an all-you-can-read e-book subscription for $9.95 a month. The company was founded by Eric Stromberg, Willem Van Lancker, and Andrew Brown and offers an iPhone and iPad app that allows unlimited access to more than 100,000 titles for a monthly subscription fee (users can read up to 10 books offline at any time). The company was launched in early September with more than $3 million in investment funding from Peter Thiel’s Founders fund, and with much media fanfare over its subscription business model, as well as high praise for its app design. In December, Oyster and Perseus Book Group reached a deal to create a pilot program offering 100 Perseus titles via Oyster, with the possibility of adding Perseus’s distribution clients (the company distributes more than 500 publishers through its various distribution units) after the program has been evaluated.
Founded by Arthur Attwell, Cape Town, South Africa–based Paperight offers a platform that allows copy shops to become POD-driven bookstores. The platform was originally developed at Electric Book Works, a publishing consulting group, also founded by Attwell, and was then independently incorporated in 2012. “A primary aim was to make books more cheaply and [to make them] more accessible to South Africans,” says Attwell. “About 5% of South Africans buy books, and the rest go without.” The company now has 200 copy shops signed up, and it has partnered with over 100 publishers, including O’Reilly Media and South African branches of Pearson, OUP, CUP, and Pan Macmillan. At the Tools of Change conference last spring, Attwell described his intentions to move into the global market. However, “in flexible startup style, we put our international plans on the backburner while we focused on building our service in South Africa,” says Attwell. “Today, we’re focusing on one piece of the puzzle: university textbooks in South Africa. We’ll revisit our international opportunities later in 2014.”
Henrik Berggren, the founder of Berlin-based Readmill, initially described his social reading site to PW in March 2012 as a more interactive version of Goodreads. The company, which launched in December 2011, is still pursuing that model, but it has also been chasing after bigger fish. Berggren initially tried to convince smaller publishers to make their content available for purchase (and then social reading) through Readmill (which is available as an iPhone and iPad app), but he has recently struck deals with some big houses as well. In November 2013, Readmill inked a partnership with Penguin U.K. that allows customers who buy directly from the publisher to read the titles in their Readmill apps. On the publisher side, in addition to Penguin U.K., Readmill has partnerships with, among others, the Guardian and A Book Apart. On the retail side, partners include Ingram and French e-book retailer Feedbooks. The company now has 12 employees.
ReDigi, which bills itself as “the world’s first pre-owned digital marketplace,” launched in beta on July 4, 2012, with new and used digital music. The company hopes to soon add new and secondhand e-books, audiobooks, and software to its product mix. Its growth has been slowed, however, by a lawsuit filed by Capitol Records in January 2012, which ReDigi lost last March; the judge found that ReDigi benefitted from the sale of commercial recordings that it did not hold copyrights to. A trial on damages is expected to take place in spring 2014. ReDigi is preparing an appeal, which, according to company spokesperson Jaclyn Inglis, “has gained tremendous tech and consumer community support.” In the meantime, ReDigi is moving ahead with preparations to sell digital and audiobooks, both in the U.S. and abroad. It opened a London office in 2013 and is currently updating its service with new security and privacy features.
Launched in October 2012, reKiosk is a startup that allows individuals as well as small publishers and indie music labels to sell their books and music. (Users can also sell previously owned books and music.) The company was the brainchild of Brooklyn-based Aziz Isham, and he developed it with his sister, Darya. Initially only a handful of book publishers signed on, including O/R Books and Grove Press. Today, reKiosk has seven full-time employees and features books by more than 1,000 independent publishers. (All books available for purchase on reKiosk’s Web site are DRM-free.) The company has always, Isham says, focused on making the digital retail process easy and open, and it features works by the likes of Julian Assange and Def Leppard. ReKiosk is now looking to bring more international publishers into the fold, and Isham says he’s been collaborating with a number of foreign houses to get them onto the site so that they can start making more direct-to-consumer sales in the U.S. market.
Riffle is a Web site that launched in beta in November 2012 as a way to connect readers with authors and books. It evolved from four-year-old Odyl, a company that developed a Facebook marketing platform for publishers and authors, including the Big Five, and which was selected as a Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer. “We came up with Riffle based on our firsthand experience of how tightly social media is connected to book discovery,” says founder and CEO Neil Baptista. In 2013, Riffle launched Riffle Select, an e-mail blast with free and discount e-book deals. Next up, according to Baptista, is a mobile app with an enhanced Goodreads import and more features for bloggers, librarians, booksellers, critics, and authors. The company, whose user base has been increasing by 20% per month, is focused on “building a long-term place for people to catalogue their reading lives and enjoy curated readings lists, insightful reviews, and community,” Baptista says.
Founded in 2010 by Rick Richter, the former president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Ruckus Media began as an interactive children’s multimedia app, before expanding its digital publishing program into education and an online retail platform. Over time, the company changed its focus to educational content and reading analytics, in addition to partnering with well-known kids’ brands like Hasbro and Crayola to create original multimedia content and a bookshelf platform that offered a new retail channel. In November 2013, Ruckus Media was sold KiwiTech, a Washington D.C.–based mobile technology company, and Richter left the company. Jason Root, previously Ruckus’s chief content officer, has been named CEO of Ruckus Media Group and will report to KiwiTech CEO Rakesh Gupta.
Already well known for digital distribution and document sharing, Scribd added a subscription e-book program to its platform in October. For $8.99 per month, subscribers get unlimited access to a library of e-books. Though Scribd won’t say exactly how many titles it offers, the service launched with what CEO Trip Adler calls a “majority” of the HarperCollins backlist (although no other Big Five publisher has signed on yet), as well as thousands of titles from big and small independent publishers. In December, Scribd struck a deal with e-book self-publishing platform Smashwords to make more than 225,000 of the latter’s e-books available via its subscription service. Scribd also offers authors and publishers an abundance of analytics on subscriber usage, including data on how much people read, which devices they use to access the service, how many readers finish each book, and which genres are most popular.
Slicebooks, an “ecosystem that includes Web services for publishers to slice, remix, and repurpose existing content,” announced that it had secured funding from Ingram Content Group in August 2013. Originally founded in 2012 in Denver, the startup has signed up over 200 publishers so far, with another 800 set to join in the near future, according to cofounder Jill Tomich. Its Slicebooks Store, which parses out portions of the e-books in the Slicebooks library, and mixes and matches such portions to create custom packages, is currently in private beta. During this phase, Slicebooks is only opening the store to publishers, but the company anticipates rolling it out to the public in early 2014. Later in 2014, Slicebooks will be testing its mobile marketing platform, YaBeam, which allows publishers to market portions of individual titles directly to mobile users at bricks-and-mortar venues.
The Palo Alto, Calif.–based startup was founded in 2010 by tech entrepreneurs Andrew Goldman and Rachel Thomas as a way to make reading an interactive and social experience. The company’s free iPad app, which allows readers to exchange ideas via the pages of digital books, launched with the intention of drawing in general trade readers. But when Subtext noticed that children’s books and classic texts taught in schools were lighting up its analytics, the company shifted its focus entirely to education. “We had caught fire in the classroom,” Goldman says. In June 2013, Subtext was acquired by Renaissance Learning, an educational software and hardware company, and in the months ahead it will focus on the Web version of the Subtext e-reading platform, which is currently in beta.
Launched in 2012 by science author Andrew Kessler, Togather aims to use crowdsourcing to make attendance at author events more predictable. Originally the site was free and gave each author a Web page to highlight his or her book event (the site sells books as well), along with a variety of social media tools (Togather also allows an author or venue to set any criteria for holding an event—say, selling at least 20 books in advance or getting 30 RSVPs—and it allows the event to be changed or canceled). However, after a year in beta, the venture shifted its focus from individual authors to companies, which can use the site’s tools to identify potentially popular events and titles. In December, Togather inked a deal with Barnes & Noble College to provide the chain’s store managers with a turnkey platform for organizing in-store events. Using Togather, B&N researched student interests and used the feedback to hold a series of book events at 25 college stores featuring a variety of authors and topics.
Is “metered” reading a viable alternative for e-books? Yoav Lorch, founder of Israeli startup Total Boox (pronounced “total books”) believes it is, and hopes his company will be the first to break through with a “pay as you go” model for digital reading. Total Boox, which launched in early 2013, looks like any other e-bookstore, with bookshelves that readers can drag titles onto, making it simple for users to create personal libraries. But rather than paying full price to download an e-book, a Total Boox customer pays only for the portion of the book that he or she reads. Thus, if a customer pulls a $10 book into his or her library and never reads it, that customer doesn’t have to pay, whereas a customer who reads an entire title pays full price. The app is also designed to recognize page flipping, so readers are not charged for browsing. Currently, Total Boox can only be used on tablet devices. The company signed its first library client, the Westchester Library System in New York, this fall and expects to add more in 2014. To date, none of the Big Five publishers have signed with the company, but it does have about 20,000 titles from a range of independent publishers, including Microsoft Press, F + W Media, and Sourcebooks. Whether or not you’re skeptical about metered reading, it’s hard to disagree with Lorch’s contention that the “buy first, read later” nature of the book business is a “remnant from the world of printed books.” And, he says, publishers will eventually see the model’s benefit: every time a reader finishes a page, the publisher makes money.
Berlin-based e-book retailer Txtr created a splash at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair when it announced plans to release a new E-Ink digital reading device that could be offered as an inexpensive companion reader for smartphones (including both Android and iOS devices). Although Txtr hasn’t been able to roll out the Beagle as rapidly has it had hoped, it did launch the device in Hungary in December. The Beagle is now available for purchase there in all T-Mobile stores for around $40, when consumers buy one of three smartphones and sign up for a T-Mobile contract. Since October, Txtr also has also operated a cobranded e-bookstore at www.hu.txtr.com, with marketing support from T-Mobile. The store has almost 900,000 foreign-language titles, including over 3,000 Hungarian e-books. A Txtr spokesperson says that the company is confident “that the results achieved in Hungary will help us pursue similar partnerships with other [mobile network operators] in 2014.” It is unclear, though, if the Beagle will make a U.S. appearance this year.
Wattpad is an online writing and reading community founded in 2006 by Alan Lau and Ivan Yuen. When PW first wrote about the company in 2009, it had about two million visitors a month and catered to young consumers who read on their smartphones. Four years later, the site attracts as many as 20 million visitors per month. While its goal remains the same—to provide a platform for young writers to develop while receiving feedback from a community of readers—publishers, initially concerned about possible violations of copyright, now embrace the site. They are encouraged by Wattpad’s ability to develop new writers and provide a marketing platform for new books, all while attracting hordes of young readers and harvesting an increasing trove of data on them. In the last year, Wattpad announced partnerships with publishers such as Sourcebooks, Harlequin, St. Martin’s, and Random House. The site has seen a flurry of significant book signings, and Wattpad supports a variety of marketing strategies that include contests, serialized e-book releases, and book launches, and major authors like Margaret Atwood, Meg Cabot, and Amanda Hocking have been eagerly involved. This year, the site launched Wattpad Fan Funding, its own Kickstarter-like crowdfunding effort. “There’s been a big change in how publishers see us,” says Ashleigh Gardner, Wattpad’s head of content. “We’re a community of readers, not self-publishers. Wattpad is great place to promote a writer, build an audience, or to plan social media strategy.”
The first major coverage PW did of Zola Books was in June 2012, when the e-tailer was talking about its impending “soft” launch. That launch officially occurred in October 2012, and since then Zola has been slowly adding titles to its storefront. Launched by former literary agent Joe Regal, Zola, which is backed by some name authors (including Audrey Niffenegger, who wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife), was intended to take on the major online retailers by, in part, catering to independent bricks-and-mortar booksellers. (Initially, Zola offered each bricks-and-mortar retailer 60% of net on all sales made to customers whom it sent to the site.) A spokesperson for Zola says the site currently sells books from four of the Big Five publishers, with titles from “most everyone else” coming soon. Zola developed an iOS app, which now features a social reading component. Additionally, the company has signed 40 bookstore “partners,” among them, major indies like the Strand Bookstore in New York City, the Tattered Cover in Denver, and Prairie Lights in Iowa City. Zola has also raised more funding, jumping from the $3.9 million drummed up in its seed round to $5.1 million at present. On January 6, Zola acquired Bookish for an undiclosed sum.