The Netherlands’ 2021 ‘Renew the Book’ Winner: A Reading App

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With its promise of making books easier to read on phones and tablets, the Immer app wins this year’s €50,000 Renew the Book prize.

On the set of the streamed awards program for the Netherlands’ Renew the Book competition. Image: Renew the Book

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Calmly Choose Your Ideal Book’
As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the General Publishers Group in the Netherlands has announced a winner of its third iteration of the Renew the Book innovation award program, with a purse of €50,000 (US$58,797) for the winner.

In an event streamed online, the program has named the Immer app its winner. The name is short for immerse, the company tells us.

The software is being tested in Dutch now with plans to release an English edition ahead. The promise of the program—led by co-founders CEO Niels’ t Hooft and CTO Lennart de Meij—is to create a program “that understands you and helps you read the way you want.”

The premise here is that you’re too busy to read, too distracted to finish a book, and too hassled to choose one you’ll like. This may not be the way to flatter a customer, but there’s likely some truth to that assessment. The intent is to support those who are concentration-challenged by making the feat of reading a book seem less daunting and taking into account a media-bombarded lifestyle. That, of course, means presenting digital content in manageable-size sections, something seen in several approaches in recent years.

An interesting throwback to startups of years ago, the Immer system does what we once called “chunking”—breaking the text of a book into small sections of “pleasantly readable portions”—and it offers books in what the company calls “stacks.”

The result, according to descriptive material on the program’s site, is the chance to “calmly choose your ideal book” and then various assists in “actually finishing the book.”

The program is also designed, according to promotional copy, to present a user with “a kind of reading diary that helps you build a reading habit” and summaries of previous short reading sessions. And more functionality, called “flowing,” includes buying that book you’ve calmly chosen “with a smart script that learns from your reading behavior and choices.”

There’s even a “spherescapes” function that “uses color and sound to get you into the mood and pull you deeper into the story” with headphones, in a way that’s “layered and dynamic.”

Image: Immer app

Jury: ‘Delicious and Addictive’

Hans Lodders, chair of the Renew the Book jury, is quoted, saying, “Immer is an innovation that really adds something new to the range on offer in the book market.

Hans Lodders

“It has the potential to appeal to new target groups that we’re currently unable to reach. Moreover, it stimulates buying and reading. In that respect, it also fulfills the objective of Renew the Book well.

“Immer has a beautiful and important objective: the promotion of deep reading, making clever use of the power of what appears to be the enemy: the smartphone. With its innovation, Immer removes all barriers and excuses surrounding reading. When you use the app, the jury noticed how much thought had gone into the reader experience, design, and technology, putting a writer is at the helm. Delicious and addictive.

“Immer is a unique total concept that helps both with the choice of the book and the reading itself, with enormous growth potential. Immer gives hope that from now on, instead of watching Netflix or Instagram-ing all the time, we will go to ‘Immer-ing’ every day for 15 minutes and enjoy reading.”

The Renew the Book program itself is designed to reward “the most innovative, unique, sustainable, but also the most feasible, valid and scalable business plan for the book trade with cash the winner can use to further develop the plan.” The hope of the program is that it can  “stimulate and support” existing and newly developed innovations and “motivate the book trade and its partners to embrace these innovations.”

Renew the Book’s 2021 Shortlist

The Immer app’s Niels’ t Hooft, left, and Lennart de Meij on the set of the Renew the Book digital awards event. Image: Renew the Book

In addition to the Immer app, the program nominated two other nominees (and the descriptions here are from media messaging about the longlist):

  • Scrollbook: The jury finds Scrollbook an innovative reading concept, in which reading is made more accessible and stimulating to the younger target group. The prototype and testing look very promising, as does the interaction design.
  • Book by Puck: This book bot, submitted by Studio Winegum, is designed to help readers with discovery of books that meet their tastes and interests.

The awards program in its streamed presentation, can be seen here:

The Coronavirus in the Netherlands

At this writing, the 6:20 a.m. ET (1120 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 1,324,021 cases in the Netherlands’ population of 17 million, with 16,790 fatalities.

While the Dutch government on Wednesday (March 31) adjusted its nightly curfew to 10 p.m. from 9 p.m., the central information service for the nation writes, “The third wave” of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic “is becoming apparent, so the measures currently in place are going to be extended.” The current spread-mitigation efforts are largely framed in a stay-at-home order with most public gathering places closed (including restaurants, gyms, bars, theaters, cinemas, and so on).

A report from TRT World indicates that Germany has placed the Netherlands “among countries classified as high-risk zones due to elevated numbers of Covid-19 cases, Berlin’s infectious disease agency has announced.” Travelers from Germany as of Tuesday (April 6) will be required to prove a negative COVID-19 test to enter Germany, with a five- or 10-day quarantine period to follow.

The government has also been testing various means of having crowd events under pressure from the population. As recently as March 14, Reuters (here via US News) reported that Dutch riot police had “used water cannon and batons to disperse a crowd of several thousand anti-lockdown protesters gathered in the center of The Hague a day before national elections.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on startups is here, more from us on publishing awards programs is here, and more from us on the Netherlands is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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