Tag: app

Startup Snapshot: Squirl

Jef Van der Avoort is co-founder of Squirl, the first location-based book discovery app. Previously he helped brands like LEGO, Philips and Hasbro to create engaging experiences on the border between the analog and digital world.

1) What exactly is Squirl?

Squirl is a location-based book discovery app that lets you bump into the real-world settings from books (e.g. The Plaza Hotel in the Great Gatsby). You can read the excerpt that takes place right where you are standing and check in to the literary location. You may also click through to buy the book. In essence, we are building an augmented story layer on top of the world.

2) What problem does it solve?

Book discovery is the number one issue for authors and publishers. We want to level the playing field by turning the whole world into a bookstore. The places you pass by become portals into different worlds, no matter if it is from a book by a first-time indie author or a bestselling superstar. It is a new, engaging and serendipitous way to discover your next read.

3) Who is your target market?

The casual reader is very important to us. These are people who read 2 or 3 books a year and are mostly overlooked when it comes to publishing tech. Discovering new books is not on top of their list, but they are interested in stories that are relevant to them. Through this geographic relevance we can excite these readers to buy a book they might not have discovered in any other way.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

Our first tangible goal is to see a book rise to the New York Times bestseller list because it was discovered through Squirl. On a more macro-level, we would like authors and publishers to see Squirl next to social marketing platforms like Twitter and Goodreads.

5) What will be next for Squirl?

We are very excited with the positive reception we are receiving and we already have some Squirl fans. We are currently raising a seed round to build some great features and advance Squirl to continue to enhance the experience for both readers and authors.

Mobile fiction startup Radish raises $3M

Today, Radish, a short-form serialized fiction platform capitalizing on the shift to mobile reading, announced that it has raised $3 million in seed financing from blue-chip Silicon Valley, Hollywood and publishing industry investors.

Enabling writers to monetize their content through micropayments, Radish has been operating under the radar for almost a year.  Radish features over 700 authors spanning romance, fantasy, YA, paranormal, mystery and sci-fi, and has already reached hundreds of thousands of app downloads since its launch last February. Its leading author is making $13,000 a month.

“Radish takes serialized storytelling into the 21st century, making it possible for the next Charles Dickens to reach and monetize tales suitable for today’s mobile audience,” said Founder and CEO Seung-Yoon “SY” Lee.  “Our content is perfect for a quick read while riding the subway, waiting in line or grabbing a bite to eat. Similar so-called freemium micropayment models are already won huge audiences huge in my home country South Korea, Japan, and China. In China, some online serial writers are making several million dollars per year from readers making micropayments for new episodes.”


Startup Snapshot: Shelfie (A.K.A. Shazam for bookworms…)

PeterHudsonPeter Hudson is the co-founder of Shelfie. The idea for Shelfie came out of an argument Peter was having with his friend Dan in a bar. Dan said he had a book at home that would prove he was right. In frustration that he couldn’t make his point, Dan said “I wish I had digital copies of all my paper books on my phone”. 

1) What exactly is the Shelfie app?

Shelfie is a free app for iOS and Android where you can take a picture of your bookshelf (a “shelfie”) and the app will automatically identify all of your books. It’s kind of like Shazam for bookworms.

2) What problem does is solve?

Shelfie solves two problems. The first is format shifting, that is, if you buy a print book we believe that you should also get the digital edition either for free or at the very least at a huge discount. The second problem we solve is book discovery and recommendations.

Here’s how…

Once you’ve used Shelfie to inventory your library, the app allows you to download the digital or audio editions of your paper books at a huge discount (usually 80-90% off what you’d have to pay normally). At the moment (summer 2016) we’ve been able to sign “bundling” deals with about 1800 publishers to offer about 450,000 titles. This is usually around 25% of the books on an “average” bookshelf.

Shelfie helps you discover new books that you’ll enjoy by looking at the patterns of how you organize your bookshelf and by correlating that pattern with the way that millions of other books are organized on other readers’ bookshelves. Where Amazon has “people who bought this also bought”, Shelfie has “readers who love this book put it on a shelf beside” — this is human curation of books at scale.

3) Who is your target market?

People who love books, readers who always want to have their library in their pocket, and bibliophiles who are always looking for their next book.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

We’re very keen to sign the last two of the “big five” publishers to offer print + digital bundle deals. We currently have agreements with HarperCollins, Hachette, and Macmillan. We’re working on bringing Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster on board.

5) What is next for the Shelfie app?

We’ve very excited about the social aspects of Shelfie. We recently built in features that allow readers to browse each others’ bookshelves. If you’ve ever been at a party and found yourself browsing the host’s bookcase, you’ll probably enjoy the “feed” in Shelfie.

Startup snapshot: Books & Magic

Mark Folkenberg Portrait SquareMark Folkenberg is the Founder and CEO of Books & Magic. After years as a professional game developer, Mark and his team have spent the last three years developing their concept and first product.

1) What exactly is Books & Magic?

Books & Magic is a 6-person cocktail of creative minds handpicked from the computer game and book publishing industries, all with a common vision of creating a new genre for books. We are highly inspired by the classical fairy tales, and being located in Copenhagen, we decided to take on the original fairy tale of ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen for our first book project.

Our magical augmented reality (AR) book visualises the universe within the text, directly on top of the pages of the book. Simply view the book through our app and the hidden universe is revealed right in front of you.

2) What problem does it solve?

We’ve managed to make the AR experience so convincing and meaningful that it feels like a magical experience. We capture the interest of children and adults by offering a way to actually explore the universe of the book. Fire cannons, unlocking chests or helping the little mermaid on her way are some of the hidden elements that the reader can find and engage with.

Intentionally, the app doesn’t tell the story – for that you would need to read the book. All the raised questions from exploring the universe and the curiosity of finding more hidden elements drives the player into becoming a reader in search of answers.

3) Who is your target market?

The story is the timeless original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, and everyone aged 5+ can be entertained by our magical book. We’ve designed the games with 3 levels of increasing difficulty, so the youngest can play the game which is also challenging the older children.

The book and app can be used solo, each in their own right, however, when they’re used together, the magical book experience is a perfect way to increase the interest for the physical book as well as a great opportunity for parents and children to spend time together.

The product’s main target is parents or grandparents, who wish to share a great story and the original classic with the youngest, to use our digital universe to introduce them to the physical book and perhaps even open their eyes to the magic within the book universe.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

We hope to reach the most of the UK and the rest of the English speaking countries with the message about this new genre, to actually offer children an alternative and less passive use of their mobile devices.

We already offer online purchase and free world wide shipping, but we are very aware that a many parents and grandparents prefer to buy their books in the local bookstore. So we hope to be able to offer this in a broad range of countries during the next year or two.

5) What will be next for Books & Magic?

As a young company, Books & Magic is born out of the digital age. We are a highly creative and very technical company, much more than the average book publisher. We believe in the book format and our take on the digital age is not to dismantle the physical book, but to enhance it.

We embrace the physical separation of the book and the mobile devices and are already working on the next book in the series. A third classical fairy tale book is in the pipeline too. But, we also have something else on the drawing board that I won’t spoil here. You will all have to wait and see. 🙂


Why is text-to-speech only an afterthought?

I spend a lot of time commuting to and from work in my car and I try to use the time wisely. I cycle through a playlist of podcasts every week but I feel like I’m missing out on other types of content. Regardless of your daily commute, I’ll bet you’d feel the same way if you’d stop to consider the possibilities.

I’m thinking mostly about short-form content such as website articles, whitepapers and other documents. If someone sends me a link or I discover an interesting article online it’s highly likely I won’t have time to read it immediately. That’s why I typically save it in Instapaper or Evernote.

This approach has turned me into an article hoarder as I have countless unread articles in both Instapaper and Evernote. So while I thought my problem was a lack of time at that moment, the truth is I rarely have time to read many of these things later either.

To its credit, the Instapaper app for Android has a text-to-speech feature built in. But the way it’s implemented tells me it was added as an afterthought. Sure, I can tap the “Speak” button and sit back and listen, but how useful is that when you’ve got a bunch of 2-4 minute articles stacked up and you’re trying to go hands-free while driving along the highway (or taking a walk, or running on a treadmill, etc.)?

Publishers sometimes talk of engaging with the consumer who’s reading their content while standing in the proverbial grocery store check-out line. Next time you’re in line at the grocery store look around. Nobody reads like that. Some people have their phones out but they’re probably scanning Facebook or sending a text message. Rather than heads-down reading you’re more likely to see people with ear buds in, listening to music while they shop or wait in line. And let’s face it: nobody reads while they’re running or doing other strenuous activities.

So along with all those “send to” buttons for various social and “read later” services, why isn’t there one built exclusively for text-to-speech conversions that open up all sorts of new use-cases for content consumption?

The service has to do much more than just transform text to audio though. There’s an important UI component that needs to be considered. The entire platform has to be audio-based, including voice commands. Picture an app on your phone that has all the voice command capabilities of Siri or Alexa, for example. Whether you’re driving or running, all you’d have to do is say things like “skip”, “next article”, “archive”, “annotate”, etc. The user should be able to manually create playlists and the service should offer the option of automatically detecting topics and placing each article in a relevant folder (e.g., sports, business, DIY, etc.).

Don’t forget the social aspect and opportunities here. Using voice commands I should be able to quickly and easily share an interesting article via email, Twitter, etc. Let me also keep track of the most popular articles other users are listening to so I don’t miss anything that might be gaining momentum.

One business model option is probably quite obvious: insert short audio ads at the start of each article, similar to the plugs I’m hearing more frequently in podcasts. And since the article topic and keywords can be identified before streaming it’s easy to serve highly relevant ads that are closely aligned with the articles themselves; think Google AdSense for audio. Give publishers an incentive to feature new “send to audio” buttons on their articles by sharing that well-targeted ad income with them.

Doesn’t this seem like it’s right in Google’s wheelhouse? I suppose they’ve got bigger fish to fry but this looks like an existing marketplace gap that’s just waiting to be filled.

Joe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

writing app

Startup snapshot: Write Track

Write TrackChris Smith is co-founder of Write Track with Bec Evans. He also runs a communications, content and digital marketing agency called Swarm and blogs about creative productivity for the Next Web and Huffington Post. Here we interviewed Chris on Write Track and what’s next in the pipeline.

1) What exactly is Write Track?

Write Track is a creative activity tracker for anyone who aspires to write. People have said we’re a little like ‘Fitbit for writers’ because we take the same kind of goal-setting and tracking tech found in fitness trackers – and apply them to creative practice.

Our ambition is to help anyone who wants to write improve their creative output and achieve their writing dreams.

2) What problem does it solve?

Writers – like many creatives – are rarely stumped for ideas. They struggle to find the time, they suffer from self-doubt, they procrastinate and get stuck in a negative spiral. They find it hard to find a writing practice that’s right for them – that’s where technology can help.

Write Track uses behaviour change theory and the science of habits to kick-start people’s writing practice and help them continue. In time, our system will provide writers with data about their creative practice and in so doing, give them the motivation to continue, grow – and improve.

3) Who is your target market?

Writers are our target market but not of any specific type or genre.

We hope that Write Track will be of value to any writer – aspiring or established – who needs or wants to write regularly and often – but struggles to find the time or keep to a writing schedule.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

People are using Write Track to start and finish their writing projects and to submit (and win) prizes at competitions. We’ve had one user clinch a publishing deal for a novel using our system to track his writing progress.

Our long-term vision is that technology can help anyone to write and become a better, more productive writer. In time we want to create our own niche with the publishing and creative writing sectors.

5) What will be next for Write Track?

We know our system works – but we also know we need to make it better. At the moment we’re using all the user feedback and data from the closed beta to develop our product pipeline. Currently we’re deep in the development and testing of a new writing challenge product that we hope to have publically available in the summer.

Reading via Snapchat? Social media updates you need to know

Social media is always evolving, and that’s why I like it. If you don’t keep up with the latest updates, you’ll get mired in old ways that worked six months ago but have since bit the proverbial dust.

Here are recent changes from 5 of the big players.

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This means war: Foyles now selling ebooks

Sticking an ever so dignified and respectable two fingers up at Amazon, beloved London bookseller Foyles has this week launched an ebook store and accompanying apps. The venerable, iconic independent chain – with five branches in London and one in Bristol, for the more adventurous metropolitan – already has over 200,000 titles on offer, which is presumably more than are contained even in its flagship five-floored Charing Cross Road shop.

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