Slicebooks Aims to Take Re-mixable Ebooks Mainstream

In Digital by Daniel Kalder

Jill Tomich, co-founder of Slicebooks, based in Denver, CO.

By Daniel Kalder

Why is it that when it comes to music, consumers can download songs or albums, while publishing remains wedded to the idea of downloading an entire book? This was the question Jill Tomich, co-founder of Slicebooks and her colleagues found themselves asking a few years ago:

“Both as publishing professionals and as frustrated content consumers ourselves, we wondered why the publishing world wasn’t offering the same freedom and flexibility that consumers have had for years with music? In this digital world, why can’t I buy a slice of any book I want, and why can’t I easily mix and match content from different sources? We talked to countless publishers and discovered they didn’t have the time, resources or a platform for making what is otherwise an obvious transition. So we created Slicebooks and set out to make all content available whole, sliced and remixable.”

A Win-Win for Publishers and Consumers

Tomich is adamant that this is a “win-win” for publishers and consumers alike:

“Publishers benefit by being able to instantly generate new digital products from mountains of existing content that has otherwise been only available to consumers in whole-book form. And consumers get the freedom to get just what they need, how and when they need it. Demand for slicing and remixing is understandably strongest in education, training, travel, business, health, and we’ve found that religious publishers are very enthusiastic as well. All of these non-fiction categories are no-brainers for being sliced into discreet units of information and then remixed into unique new publications.

A Mo Yan short story collection "sliced" by Slicebooks

But there are benefits for fiction as well, adds Tomich: “One of the publishers of the 2012 Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan, Skyhorse Publishing, recently came to us to slice some of Mo’s short-story collections. So consumers can buy the whole book or just a few stories if they wish. And as we’ve seen over and over again with the Internet, once a technology is adopted human creativity finds a myriad of ways to use it. This is only the beginning.”

The Slicebooks tool is a web service enabling publishers to chunk books into customizable and ready-to-publish slices in a few easy steps: “In just a few minutes publishers can upload any EPUB or PDF file, singly or in multi-file batches, and then make selections about what slice sizes are desired (sections, chapters, sub-chapters etc.), what front and back matter gets included in each slice, and which one of our custom cover templates to design. The book then gets “sliced” based on the publisher’s selections and loaded into their publisher dashboard. From the dashboard the publisher can edit metadata, download slices or publish them to our ebook store.”

And once publishers have an inventory of content on the Slicebooks dashboard, it is easy to publish a custom remix by simply dragging and dropping slices to mix and match content using the Remix tool. “Again, in just minutes publishers can attach custom covers, edit metadata and publish that new, custom ebook.”

Inventing New Uses and the Consumer Remix Service

Slicebooks demoed an early version of the technology at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011, and then launched in beta at the 2012 BEA show. Even in that short time, Tomich says she has encountered clients who have found ways to use the technology she had never dreamed of:

“For example, we were surprised but delighted when a national rabbinical training organization approached us because they wanted to slice up their prayer books and then give their Rabbis the ability to customize prayer services weekly using their iPads. We just hadn’t foreseen that, but now it seems obvious.”

Although the initial focus has been on servicing publishers, Slicebooks is testing what they call “A Consumer Remix Service,” which they aim to launch in the second quarter of 2012:

“It will enable any publisher, blogger, author or anyone with a site to embed our Remix Widget on their site and give their viewers the ability to create custom remixed ebooks. For example, professors will be able to instantly put together custom course packs, travelers can build custom travel guides, and so on.”

Publishers currently use the slice and remix tools at no cost. When they want to publish or download their slices and remixes, the pricing model has two options. “If they want to download the files to distribute through their own network, the cost involves a per-file fee plus per-page, with discounts for volume. If a publisher chooses to make their slices available through the Slicebooks store, then no service fees are applied. Instead, every time a slice is purchased individually or combined in a remix the publisher gets paid. Slicebooks takes 30%. In this way slicing and remixing becomes a new revenue stream, or several new streams, all derived from existing content that was previously buried and inaccessible except in whole-book form.”

Working with Distributors and Direct Sales

To meet demand, and to make it easier for publishers who are inundated with requests to integrate with new systems, Tomich is working with some large distributors to integrate Slicebooks into their own service offerings: “For example, any publisher integrated with Ingram Content Group’s CoreSource digital asset management platform will soon be able to deliver their files to us for ‘slicing’; their content is already stored and served from the CoreSource system, so it will be a seamless process, no new integration required.”

Currently Slicebooks operates eBookPie, which was the first retail ebook platform offering content “whole or sliced.” That will soon be overhauled, however: “As part of our launch of the Consumer Remix Service, we’ve redesigned the store and will relaunch it as the “Slicebooks Store” and will make it a part of the Slicebooks site. The new store will serve as a neutral repository of content slices and offer full consumer remixing, semantic search and other new features. This new iTunes-style retail platform for digital content will also be available for white labeling, and we are in discussions now with publishers wanting to license our platform to launch Slicebooks-like stores or marketplaces that will serve as aggregated communities focusing on specific categories of content, and in different languages, and make all that content available sliced and remixable.”

Killer App: Push Mobile and Situational Content

So far, so good, but Tomich thinks that the Slicebooks technology will really take off once the platform’s mobile distribution is launched:

“This is our newest and most ambitious project yet, but also what we see as the logical next step for sliced content…we expect this will be Slicebooks’ ‘killer app.’ We call this ‘Everywhere is a Bookstore.’ We’re building a platform that will enable publishers to “push” slices of content directly to the consumer, at the exact time and exact place the consumer wants it and available at an impulse-buy price. In this way the slices serve as “situational content.”

Adds Tomich: “It is often said that, today, power has shifted to the consumers: they want what they want, how, where and when (NOW!) they want it. Increasingly, where they want it is on their mobile device, such as their phone or tablet. At the same time, brick-and-mortar bookstores are going away, and the cloud is becoming a crowded space controlled by a few big players. Publishers are left with decreasing options for easily and affordably putting their content in the faces of the customers they want to reach, particularly if they have niche content for niche audiences. Discoverability is what all publishers stress over.

“The platform we are building is both a custom distribution system and co-op marketing platform that will enable publishers of any size to put niche content in front of the most likely to be interested audience. Once their content is sliced, publishers can automatically attach a QR code to any given slice of content targeted at a particular niche audience, and then distribute that content to any participating ‘venue’ that seems to attract the niche audience the publisher is after. A venue can be any physical space — a counter or a wall in any retail space, a museum, the backseat of a taxi cab, an airport gate. The consumer scans the QR code, purchases the slice (or slices, or a remix), and then can read it then on any device or download it later, as they wish.”

Tomich offers an intriguing real world example as to how this app would work:

“We recently presented at a STEM publishers conference in D.C. and had a free Saturday so we spent the day at the Smithsonian. Our first stop was the Julia Child exhibit, where they’ve recreated Julia’s entire kitchen. Crowds of people stood admiring Julia’s amazing workspace, and just next to her kitchen is a display featuring her famous book about French Cooking. There stood a crowd of people, smart phones in hand, staring at the book, clearly wanting it right now, taking pictures of it. A niche audience in front of exactly the content they wanted. Our system would allow them to immediately scan it with their smart phones, grab a slice or the whole book, or a remix, right when their interest is peaking, right when their impulse to buy is at its highest. No searching, no browsing, just a quick impulse buy. This is discoverability.”

Restoring Trust in Publishers

Tomich believes that book publishers will be able to use Slicebooks to restore their claim to being the most trusted sources of content in the marketplace:

“We were on the team in the early 1990s that helped propagate the World Wide Web. As we were all making it up on the fly back then, little did we realize that we were unleashing a technology that allowed anyone, anywhere to become their own publisher. As we all know, massive amounts of content flooded the Internet as a result, often of dubious quality, and the flood has only increased. It is understandable that when consumers face a choice between a slice of free, if unreliable, content versus content requiring them to purchase a whole book, many will go with free or, like professors who photocopy, what’s easiest to get right now…by making sliced content easily discoverable and remixable, publishers can satisfy consumers’ need for quick, right-now content with multiple options to purchase content whole, sliced and easily remixable.”

Indeed, so confident is Tomich regarding the quality of Slicebooks’ service that she views the entire world’s publishers and all their customers as potential clients. “There are countless millions of books that deserve to be sliced, and our mission is to slice every one of them and build a repository of those slices where customers can easily discover exactly the slices they need, right when they need it, and have the option to create new collections of any content they want. This makes perfect sense to us, and when we talk to consumers about what we are building, they wonder why this wasn’t available years ago.”

DISCUSS: Is Re-mixing the Answer for Good, Fast and Cheap Ebooks?

About the Author

Daniel Kalder

Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, currently based in Texas after a ten year stint spent living in the former USSR where he (more or less) picked up Russian. He has written two books about Russian life and culture and contributes features, reviews and travel pieces to publications around the world.