By Amanda DeMarco
Gunnar Siewert doesn’t come from a publishing background. He worked at Bertelsmann Music Group from 1992 to 2002, a watershed era of “democratization and digitalization” for the music industry that profoundly affected the founding of his Web 2.0 publishing platform, BookRix. Siewert sees BookRix as a MySpace for literature where writers and readers interact without mediation.
Talk to Siewert about BookRix, and you’ll hear the word “democratization” a lot. It’s the concept at the heart of his vision. He extols this new order: “There are no gate-keepers saying, ‘This is good and this is bad.’” Bad things, things that are not worth consuming “just disappear in the digital universe.”
BookRix’s German site went online in 2008, allowing writers to create profiles and promote their books and readers to leave comments on what they read. Right now its community consists of 63,000 registered users and offers 43,000 mostly user-generated books for free online. The American site followed in August 2009. It has 126,000 registered users and offers 9,800 books.
In July, Publishing Perspectives reported on BookRix’s new mobile platform that offers its books for download in EPUB format expressly for smartphone users. The new platform drastically increased the site’s mobile downloads, which went from 8,000 downloads in April prior to the addition of the mobile site to 102,000 in August.
Publishers can also create free profiles on BookRix and offer sample chapters on its sites. The German site features an active and diverse group of 47 publishers, the most popular of which, arsEdition, has 434 fans. Few publishers have created profiles on the American site.
BookRix is currently financed by advertising, but by the end of the year there will be no more ads on the site. By mid- to late-2011, it will switch to a new business model based on providing digital and physical distribution for writers, as well as paid services such as customized surveys. Though much about the services remains unsettled, Siewert emphasized that they would be offered to publishers and writers alike. “We don’t see a difference between a publisher and a writer. They are both people trying to sell books.”
All BookRix writers will have the option of making their works available for purchase as e-books and as print-on-demand books. Writers who wish to continue to provide their work for free will be able to do so. Prices will be set by authors within a range specified by BookRix. “People on the platform have control of what they are doing. That’s a crucial part of the idea,” said Siewert.
BookRix has been criticized for marketing itself unrealistically to writers as a way to gain attention and break into traditional publishing. A promotional video on the site ends with, “Who knows, maybe you’ll be a BookRix bestselling author.” Until recently, those criticisms appeared well-founded. But BookRix just reported its first author to get a contract with a major publishing house. Positive comments on the 17-year-old’s profile drew the publisher’s attention.