The Frankfurt Book Fair will always be a "book" fair. But in recent years the fair has made a concerted effort to attract entrepreneurs and new digital media companies from around the world, a strategic move that is paying off, with a growing number of upstart tech companies on hand seeking to work with publishers, retailers and other players in the book business.
“Frankfurt is the largest book fair in the world, and we needed a stake in the ground for the company launch, and you couldn’t ask for any better venue for what we are doing,” says Neil Balthaser, CEO and founder of the newly minted company Intellogo. “It’s a great place to have everyone together at once, big and small.”
From a seat in the Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club, Balthaser demonstrated his technology—Intellogo is a “machine learning” engine that can parse a large corpus of works for complex themes, an advance that represents the bleeding edge of metadata practices.
“Intellogo cracks open books, reads them, and understands them,” Balthaser explained. “It can understand concepts vs. key words. We have trained it to understand things like characters, personality, writing styles, geographic locations, time periods,” he said. In all, Intellogo can comprehend roughly 100 million different “insights” that can help publishers and retailers better understand their holdings, and thus build better marketing and merchandising campaigns.
Balthaser is no stranger to the publishing industry—he used to work for Barnes & Noble, where helped run the Nook Press self-publishing platform. After leaving B&N, the idea for Intellogo struck him.
“We had all this content coming in but no way of really understanding it,” he says of his time at Nook. “It was just a deluge, a problem that is common in our lives today, with web content, books, and magazines. Search can help, but key words only scratch the surface. So with my background in artificial intelligence, I thought, machines can help us with this.”
Also at this year’s fair are representatives from an startup called PubCoder, showing off software that enables creators to build powerful, top-level digital products cheaply, and quickly.
“PubCoder is an authoring tool for complex content,” said Enrico Gazzano, PubCoder’s co-founder. “It’s a tool that allows you to add animation, interaction, and other elements, everything you would expect to see on a tablet, and then to publish that work in any format, whether as an EPUB3, as an iOS or Android app.”
Using a simple, intuitive drag and drop template, elements that would take days of coding—and thousands of dollars—can be pulled off in minutes. “The idea is going from digital books, to digital for books. This is not just taking a print version and making an enhanced PDF, but we’re thinking about the product—games, interactivity, cool stuff.”
Paolo Albert, PubCoder’s CTO said, the company is aiming at a range of target audiences, including publishers who want to create great digital catalogs, IT companies that support publishers, and self-publishers who want an efficient and low-cost tool to bring their vision to life. Design schools are also using Pubcoder, and advertisers, too, Gazzani, added, as branded content becomes more popular.
The PubCoder beta first debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair, and was runner-up at the CONTEC Frankfurt International Publishing Startup Showcase. Last year, PubCoder stepped up in class, with iTunes officially recommending the software as one of the best authoring tools on the market.
“For us this is a great place to show our solution,” said Albert, of his third trip to the book fair. “For us Frankfurt is a real showcase.”
For all the talk of e-books, and the state of the book market, the number of new digital startups at the Frankfurt Book Fair is an indicator of the industry’s health—to paraphrase a common refrain, for an industry that is supposedly dying, there sure are a lot of brilliant young entrepreneurs trying to get in.