By Joy Hawley
Although around 1 in 3 Germans read ebooks, most of that book discovery still happens offline. Is this because the online platforms for discovering and sharing books are still finding their feet, or because German readers place a higher value on offline recommendations and the expertise of local bookshops? There are a number of new book platforms, apps and social networks that have been ‘made in Germany’ over the past few years. From social reading apps like Readmill or dotdotdot to the newer apps, such as Blinkist (which offers snippets from nonfiction books according to topic) or the new online reading platform Sobooks, which lets readers share entire pages of books, several start-ups are coming up with elegant solutions to connect readers with the right book.
The three German book platforms we’re focusing on today offer range of approaches to the ‘discovery’ problem, and all three are developing intuitive, appealing interfaces for browsing books. Skoobe is a subscription service with several years behind it arleady, while Flipintu is in closed beta and LOG.OS is still in the development phase. With a bit of luck, one of these platforms may achieve the popularity of Goodreads or Tumblr on the German market, or at least pave the way for more readers to discover titles digitally.
Skoobe: The Subscription App
The German book subscription app Skoobe, a joint venture project of Random House and Holtzbrinck, has been on the market for around 18 months and attracted 10,000 readers in its first year. After a short trial period, subscriptions cost 10 Euros a month for access to 30,000 books via an Android or iOS app. The basic subscription allows users to read 3 books at a time, while premium subscriptions offer larger ‘bookshelves.’
The easy-to-use interface enables users to start reading a book within the app in a matter of seconds. App users who don’t want to pay the monthly subscription fee are still able to browse excerpts of thousands of fiction, nonfiction and children/young adult titles. They also have a selection of foreign language books.
One of the most surprising things the Skoobe team has learned is that users “still buy books.” Their data has shown that 27% of users later buy print books which they first discovered on Skoobe, and 16% of Skoobe readers later purchased e-books.
CEO and co-founder Henning Peters emphasizes that Skoobe’s services encourages users to explore the long tail, mining publishers’ backlists to discover forgotten, hidden gems. Some 80% of Skoobe users say they read books on Skoobe that they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Overall, 60% of users say they spend more time reading since using the app.
Flipintu: A “topic platform” for book discovery
Flipintu co-founder Ralph Möllers describes the startup as a company that “offers publishers new, creative opportunities to build up direct relationships with readers, and a CRM system for managing those relationships.”
Flipintu integrates blogs and website content into a user-friendly online platform organized by topic into verticals. By browsing hundreds of topics, from science and technology to gardening, Flipintu users can discover new books in any given category. Instead of searching by topic, one can also search by “channel.” Each channel offers a wealth of articles, pictures reviews and book previews, among other content. Möllers says that “the basic idea is to give publishers direct access to potential readers.” The main tools for this are these channels, and publishers may curate several channels with different specific topics, from European noir to vegetarian cooking. A number of book publishers, as well as bloggers, authors, readers and enthusiasts have already set up their own channels.
While Flipintu centers on reading, it encompasses much more than books. The founders recognized that reading as a whole is being “disrupted” by currently available technology. Since over 80% of online book purchases are made by people who already know what they are looking for, Flipintu was created to help people discover books – and to be able to buy them at the moment of discovery. The founders liken Flipintu to Feedly or Flipboard, which likewise provide content feeds tailored to the user’s interests.
Flipintu has its own content editors for several of the main categories – this ensures that expertly curated content, which distinguishes the platform from its algorithm-dependent rivals. With Flipintu’s technology (developed by Book2Look) it is easy for users to integrate their content into a Flipintu channel from other sources. Because the platform runs as a web app, it is compatible with all devices, from laptops to smartphones.
Beyond the platform’s colorful, clean interface, what sets Flipintu apart is that it not only bundles online content, it also sells ebooks. Both ebooks and print books can be purchased from the platform’s integrated shop, and it will soon feature social reading functions for in-app reading. It will also offer an affiliate program for bloggers and readers to receive a part of the proceeds from all of the books which are discovered and purchased on the platform. This feature was inspired by the US website ReKiosk, which allows companies and individuals to collect their favorite digital content from the platform and curate it in their own sales “kiosks.” By the end of 2013 Flipintu’s creators plan to launch the complete website, followed by an English language version next year at Flipintu.com.
LOG.OS: An Online Book Platform for 21st-Century Publishing
Arguably one of the most exciting models for an online publishing platform has come out of Berlin. LOG.OS is the brainchild of Volker Oppmann, who also founded Onkel & Onkel Verlag and Textunes, the first German company to publish ebooks for the iPhone and iPad, which was sold to Thalia earlier this year. A visionary in German publishing, Oppman explains that today’s knowledge is to a large extent no longer in the hand of the public. In terms of ebooks, the data is stored on the servers of international ebook retailers, who are thus usurping the job of public institutions to manage these “archives of knowledge”.
LOG.OS is being set up as a charitable association in order to create an ebook platform charged with representing the interest of the commons. The team, made up of publishers, editors, literary agents and developers, among others, is focusing on developing a user-friendly “operating system” on which ebooks can be sold, read, shared and even published while operating in a transparent way. Oppman’s vision for LOG.OS is to have it become an online platform for everyone who deals with books — from readers and writers to publishers, retailers, educators and librarians — with a customized interface for each of these interest groups and an app environment for buying and reading ebooks. The LOG.OS initiative is still gathering input from a variety of potential users in its development phase, but they are also eager to cooperate with organizations that have similar goals, from universities to local bookstores.
Oppman stresses that more than individual ebooks, it’s the network of knowledge that can offer readers added value. That’s why LOG.OS aims to host and organize an international archive of ebooks in an intuitive, social way. While LOG.OS is still a long way from presenting a finished product, those interested can follow the work of Oppman and his team — or join their growing network of supporters — at the LOG.OS blog: http://log-os.info/.