BEA’s Startup Challenge Brings Publishers and Technologists Together
Although it's only in its second year, BookExpo's Startup Challenge has become one of my favorite parts of BEA. For those unfamiliar with the Challenge, it pits tech startups that serve the publishing industry against one another over the course of two days. Each startup is required to pitch their service to a panel of judges and four finalists will pitch live on-stage to the BEA audience. The winner takes home $10,000 and gains greater notoriety within the industry.
There's an undeniable energy to the "Startup Alley," the competitors' home within BEA's exhibit hall, that provides a bit of fresh air to an otherwise one-sided conference. While I still learn a lot each year from publishing's top leaders (as you can see from some of my latest posts on IDPF Digital Book Conference), I find that the most surprising insights come from those outside of publishing. Hearing from the technologists and understanding where they see the industry heading, is invaluable.
There were a few familiar faces in this year's competition. Both Slicebooks and Lithomobilus were in attendance, startups we've covered and that I personally think have a bright future in the industry.
Slicebooks is known for its chunking capabilities, which allow publishers to sell titles by chapter, pages, or sections. But at BEA it was promoting its latest foray into ebook geolocation. The topic of geolocation is getting quite a bit of attention in the industry lately, especially with Simon & Schuster's recent partnership with Foli. Slicebooks' take on it utilizes beacon technology. If a beacon is present in a certain location and the mobile user has the Slicebooks app, they will receive an automatic alert about books relevant to that environment. Jill Tomich, co-founder and CEO of Slicebooks, told me that it could be helpful in a conference setting like BEA, where readers could be alerted to the latest books the speaker they are listening to has written. They can read a sample of those titles and buy the full version through Slicebooks.
In-app purchasing is Lithomobilus' angle. The platform, which allows readers to seamlessly move across related, interlinked stories within the app, believes it's reading experience can promote greater purchasing from the reader. If someone is reading Veronica Roth's Divergent, explained VP of strategy and business development Lucinda Foss, and comes to the unanticipated scene where Four throws a knife at the heroine Tris, the Lithomobilus app would inform the reader that there is another story related to this scene. Roth wrote a short story called "Free Four" which is that same chapter written from Four's perspective and answers the reader's burning question, "Why attack Tris?" The reader can immediately purchase that story, read it in app, and then return to where they were in Divergent.
"This is allowing publishers to turn every book into a potential bookstore for related content," said Foss. "It's presenting content to readers to purchase at the time that it is most relevant and valuable, which is why we have this surge in purchasing, what we call the 'Litho-bump.'"
There were new faces at the Startup Challenge as well. A startup that I think has a good chance at the top prize is Find My Audience. It's a useful social listening platform that can help marketers develop more targeted social marketing campaigns. The site asks a few questions about the book you want to promote. What other books is it like? What genres does it fit into? What are some keywords related to the book? Using this information, the site compiles all of the valuable activity posted from individuals on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads that relate to the criteria you entered. The site will actually rank what individuals are most valuable (ie. tweets about these types of books regularly) and allows you to create a lead list to target later. It seemed like an easy system to use, and one that I think a number of marketers would be eager to get their hands on.
Another startup I think is worth mentioning is ebook subscription service 24Symbols. While some may think that the market is saturated in the U.S., Spanish-based 24Symbols offers a different take on the typical subscription experience. "We encourage a lot more social interactions on the platform," said co-founder and chief product officer Justo Hidalgo. The service allows readers to build their own bookshelves of their favorite titles and share them across the 24Symbols platform and on external social networks. When asked if these social aspects drive more reading, Hidalgo responded, "Absolutely they do. Our users create their own libraries and the types of books they put together are truly amazing. You would never find some of these titles otherwise."
Today is the last day of the Startup Challenge. The final event will be held in the BookExpo exhibit hall at 2:30PM and winners will be announced shortly after that. Book Business will be covering these startups more extensively in our blog "The Futurists," and will interview the Startup Challenge winner.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.