BookBub began with a simple concern. How can technology help unknown writers get discovered? In 2012, Josh Schanker and Nicholas Ciarelli took up that question, and together they designed an e-mail newsletter to guide readers to new and less-known authors. In return for taking a chance, readers could get e-books at a steep discount.
“They came from outside the industry and saw this gap,” says Katie Donelan, BookBub’s head of partner relations, who came from Random House to be one of the company’s first hires. “That insight makes sense—the need to reach readers directly has become a lot more prominent in recent years.”
Initially, self-published authors drove BookBub’s growth, but in recent years an increasing number of publishers have come on board, including the Big Five houses and many prominent independent presses. Today the company has 15 million subscribers who read tens of millions of books each year.
Donelan says an average BookBub subscriber reads four books or more each month, and many of the company’s core clientele are older retirees looking to discover mass market titles. When they sign up, they can select from more than 40 categories of books they want to hear about, and receive daily e-mails notifying them of updates. Donelan estimates that the company runs more than 1,000 promotions monthly.
But the idea of discoverability goes beyond promotions. On BookBub’s website, readers can search for any title, hear about pre-publicity for forthcoming books, and receive recommendations from authors. Last March, the company also launched an audiobook division, Chirp, which is BookBub’s first foray into direct retail.
“BookBub’s deals were intended to be one way for readers to discover books, but the intent was always to try other things,” Donelan says. The idea for audiobooks came from increasing interest among BookBub’s publishing partners, who she notes wanted to have more outlets for marketing and distributing audio content. While Chirp is still new, BookBub is building its audience by promoting the program to existing BookBub customers.
In addition to expanding their domestic market, BookBub has steadily grown its international presence, launching divisions for customers in Australia, Canada, and the U.K.
The growth of the company is supported by a staff of 120 employees. Located in a tech hub of Cambridge, Mass., near MIT, roughly one-third of the staff are engineers. At the same time, many others are former employees of publishing houses. It’s a good fit for this part of New England, Donelan says. “Culture-wise, Boston has been very kind to us,” she notes, adding that her own personal move from Random House to BookBub “has been a really good marriage of skill sets.”
As the company expands, Donelan says its growth will continue to serve a core mission that hasn’t changed since Schanker and Ciarelli first launched the company seven years ago. “What BookBub is trying to do,” she explains, “is match the reader with a good book.”