Host of November’s BookMachine NYC, Bree Weber, talks to speaker on the night Joe Regal, co-founder of Zola Books.
Grab your tickets for BookMachine NYC here.
1. How did your background as a literary agent lead to Zola Books?
What I saw as an agent was that with the rise of digital books, authors were stuck with a royalty rate I didn’t feel was fair – 25% of net – but the problem came not from publishers as much as a retail environment where publishers were being squeezed by an increasingly small group of increasingly powerful retailers, and the publishers were passing on that pain to the writers out of self-preservation. It seemed really clear that in order to continue to serve writers, I needed to become involved in an effort to bring more diversity to retail, so that publishers would have more outlets for their books, enabling them to continue to nurture writers struggling to start careers…or struggling to maintain careers.
2. How does this goal shape Zola Books?
Zola’s core mission is to change the publishing industry by decentralizing retail, returning power to the people, and fostering a culture of cooperation. We want to do that by building and sharing technology to sell books, and also to create community around books. We see each book as its own potential social network.
3. What are some of the challenges you faced?
Early on, I didn’t fully get that we were a technology company. So even though we brought in a very accomplished CTO, I felt that technology was his domain, and I didn’t recognize my responsibility in deeply understanding all the systems we needed to build and how we should build them. As a consequence, I made the big mistake of trying to do everything at once — ecommerce, our own DRM, book recommendations, reading apps with social functions, everything – and so we didn’t do any one thing particularly well. It was too much all at once. So one big lesson was that you can sequence things, get one piece out at a time, and go from there.
4. What can we expect from Zola Books?
Zola will be coming out of beta with the launch of a completely new site – one that is focused almost entirely on mobile-friendly retailing. And Zola will be offering books from Penguin Random House, the biggest publisher in the world – meaning that for the first time, our catalog of available titles will be largely complete. That is great timing, because sometime around the BookMachine event, we should be launching our first really major partnership revealing what our technology can do for our partners – which should be front page news.
5. Can you give us a sneak peek of what to expect at BookMachine on November 6?
I’ll be talking about the challenges faced in starting Zola, and talking about lessons I learned, like “do one thing and do it well.” And I’ll be talking about the changes we need to see in the publishing landscape, and why I believe Zola could be part of making those changes. And with luck, I’ll be able to do more than talk about it – I’ll be able to point to some evidence!