PARIS: Though just 27 years old, Hadrien Gardeur is a veteran of the war to win e-book readers. Gardeur co-founded his company Feedbooks -– a cloud publishing and distribution service for e-books -– during the summer of 2007 when he was in his last year of computer science engineering school. Three and a half years later, Feedbooks distributes some three million e-books each month to a growing community of readers on multiple platforms, in the US and France, and is looking to add other major European markets in the near term.
After opening its e-bookstore last summer Gardeur, who serves as the company’s CEO, and Feedbooks co-founder Loïc Roussel, launched a mobile platform via the popular Aldiko application for Android, which supports ePUB and PDF e-book formats, as well as Adobe DRM (and was just yesterday updated to version 2.0).
Given that most of their readers download to mobile devices, getting mobile distribution just right was essential. Smartphones are perfect, says Gardeur, for “short bursts of reading while you’re in the subway or waiting in line . . . Rather than playing a game or listening to music you can read.” Today Feedbooks’ e-bookstore stands to be extremely lucrative for the company which has a revenue sharing system for book sales.
The spare design of the Feedbooks site makes it easy to navigate among the various offerings, which include free public domain e-books, an “original books” section, where you can both download free self-published books or, indeed, self-publish on your own, as well as commercial titles available for sale in the aforementioned e-bookstore.
Gardeur was able to launch Feedbooks thanks to a business angel and two grants from the government-funded OSEO, which supports innovation. The business model had always called for them to sell books, but “we had to wait to get together a substantial catalogue,” says Gardeur. In the meantime the Feedbooks team concentrated on improving the formatting for e-books and mobile distribution. They first released their mobile e-books through Lexcycle’s Stanza, a free application for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. “We were the first to have ePUB files and good formatting,” says Gardeur, “that’s what attracted the crowd and it’s what turned Feedbooks into what it is now.”
Gardeur also had one distinct advantage over many other French tech entrepreneurs: As a child he went to a bilingual French-English school and was perfectly comfortable launching his product in English, aiming first at the US market where e-books were –- and remain — more widespread. Today over 50% of Feedbooks’ traffic still comes from the US, with the UK and France next, followed by Germany and Spain.
Another thing that also sets the site apart from French competitors –- as well as most other overseas sites — are the tools Feedbooks provides for self-publishing. These have been blogged about appreciatively on many sites. On selfpublishingreview.com one blogger concludes, “There’s not much to dislike about Feedbooks. Yes, it is only suited to distributing ‘free’ material, and yes, you are going to have to struggle to be heard over a massive amount of superhero fanfic. Also, since it is so easy to get a book from Feedbooks via your phone while you wait at the dentist’s, a writer can wonder how many of their downloads are actually being read. But ultimately when you see a title breakout with 20,000 to 50,000 downloads, it’s clear that this is an important channel for getting your work out to the world.”
Gardeur doesn’t dismiss the idea that in the future self-published books might be offered for sale. “For now it’s most important for authors to build a fan base before they sell their books,” he says. “Our goal is to get readers. Authors need to get readers and feedback. Who is reading what and where? We’re trying to crack the code. We want to find the secret recipe for self-published books.”
Self-publishers can find success publishing via Feedbooks and Gardeur cites the example of a Feedbooks novel that was downloaded 100,000 times and another where the author was contacted about a film contract.
Feedbooks entry into the English language market put it in direct competition with Amazon and Apple, though Gardeur notes that Feedbooks’ ecosystem differs from most of their competitors. “We don’t want to control everything on our own,” he says. “Rather than building our own app, we would rather work with other people . . . Amazon and Barnes & Noble are building something that is closed and vertical. You can’t add content. Since we have an open standard you can potentially add your own catalogue. This creates something capable of growing. Institutions can use the site, or students can use it.”
As one example of this openness to collaborate, Feedbooks is involved in the development of the OPDS (Open Publishing Distribution System) Protocol. “OPDS has the potential to change how we acquire books,” Gardeur says. The OPDS catalogue “enables the aggregation, distribution, and discovery of books, journals, and other digital content by any user, from any source, in any electronic format, on any device.”
And though the company has already positioned itself to be a competitive e-bookseller, Gardeur says he doesn’t just want to be a retailer, he wants to be an innovator: “We are still trying to stay ahead technically,” and though, he notes, France may not be an easy country for entrepreneurs, “there are good engineers here and since we’re expanding in the European markets we couldn’t be more centrally located. It’s not perfect, but it’s great.”