Startup of the week: iAuthor
This article first appeared in FutureBook, The Bookseller’s digital showcase, on 7th March 2016. See it now, or read the reproduced version below.
Adam Kolczynski's iAuthor aims to find a solution to the perennial problem of book discoverability. By Sarah Shaffi, www.thebookseller.com
Think “Pinterest for books”. iAuthor connects authors and publishers to readers on an immersive, image-centric interface. All content is user-generated, with no editor’s picks.
Who’s behind it
Founder Adam Kolczynski has been an author and a publisher, giving him a look at both sides of the coin. Between 2010 and 2013, he ran Polybius Books, which provided a specialist editorial and branding service to self-publishing authors from the Anglosphere. While forging links with industry advisors, he asked them to identify the publishing industry’s greatest challenge. Almost unanimously, the answer was “book discoverability”, and with that the seeds of iAuthor were sown.
iAuthor’s team also includes Marten Wetterberg as senior full-stack developer and Henry Lindesay-Bethune as lead UX designer.
What’s the gap in the market?
“Genre-driven discovery is no longer enough,” says Kolczynski. “Gaps are left, subtle layers missed. iAuthor fills these gaps by letting users curate books by theme, not just genre.” Themes include ‘books that lay bare the human condition’, ‘novels with a deeply flawed protagonist’, and ‘books about humanity at peace with Mother Nature’. The possibilities, says Kolczynski, are “endless”.
iAuthor crowdsources its themes, and content from outside can be curated, “widening the discovery pool to include books not currently on iAuthor,” says Kolczynski.
LitSampler, iAuthor’s proprietary book sampler, allows authors and publishers to upload an excerpt of their book, controlled from their iAuthor dashboard. “Readers can try before they buy, decreasing their inbuilt risk aversion to a new book by an unknown author,” explains Kolczynski. “We asked ourselves what the ideal sampling tool should do. It should be responsive, allowing effortless sampling on all screen-sizes. It should be shareable, so readers can harness their global network to maximise author discoverability. It should be embeddable, so book samples can travel to any site or blog. It should be browser-centric, so the sampling process won’t require downloading software or files. Lastly and most importantly, the book sample should be commercial, with retail links to stimulate the impulse purchase. iAuthor’s LitSampler covers all of the above, and elegantly completes the Browse-Sample-Buy discovery funnel.”
Success so far?
iAuthor attracts users from 144 countries across five continents, says Kolczynski. The ratio of traditionally published to self-published authors is 40:60, and there are books by authors from Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins, Harlequin, Walker Books, Accent Press and Andersen Press on the platform.
“Catering to users across multiple time-zones presents an inevitable logistical challenge,” says Kolczynski. “Without compromising on response times or response quality, we’ve overcome this obstacle through a healthy blend of automation and caffeine-fuelled solicitousness.
Another early challenge involved dispelling the surprisingly pervasive myth that a bulk import tool would enhance iAuthor. Bulk import is a mixed blessing, convenient on the one hand, insidious on the other. Why insidious? Because it unconsciously fosters a set-and-forget passivity; an assumption that merely adding a book to iAuthor’s database is a guarantee of future engagement. This misses the central point of the platform: iAuthor provides the clay, but users do the moulding. Put differently, we’d rather have 1 million users engaging with 25,000 books, rather than 25,000 users engaging with 1 million books.”
“To make books not only searchable but genuinely discoverable.”
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
“Top-tier coverage for your startup can feel like validation, but should never breed complacency. Your core focus must lie with the people who got you there: beta-testers, early adopters, loyal users. They are your most vocal brand advocates, drivers of your social graph density and forgers of your platform’s cultural resonance. The user-to-user bonds they create will make your community far greater than the sum of its parts.”