Introduction: Autorenwelt — Books, Tech, Teal, Lean, Agile.


This is the first article of what is to be a series shedding light on the development of Autorenwelt (“authors’ world”, http://autorenwelt.de), as well as the journey and the learnings of its team.

I have been toying with the idea of publicly writing about our adventures for a while now, but never got around doing it — there just always seem to be more important things to do. However, at the team meeting we had last weekend, I was mandated by the rest of the team to actually start doing it. The general idea is to be more transparent in what we do, as surely some people out there are interested in what is going on behind the curtains. Who am I, and who are the others that are involved? I will get to that in another article, first things first.


What is Autorenwelt?

Autorenwelt is a (German) platform/social network that aims to make life easier for writers. Our two guiding principles are to a) offer services along the publishing value chain that add value to writers’ works and b) to connect writers with their readers.

So far Autorenwelt features a database of literature awards and contests, seminars, workshops, call for submissions and events — the general idea here is to map any real world artifacts that could be of interest to writers. Furthermore, people and organizations that are involved in the making of books can create profiles for themselves and publish the aforementioned artifacts as pieces of content. The site also features the two print journals (“Federwelt” and “der selfpublisher”) of the Uschtrin Verlag, the specialist publisher Autorenwelt spun off. Selected articles from those journals can be read on the site under “Impulse”, where we would also like to feature several blogs later on. There is a discussion board and a built-in messaging system to facilitate communication and cooperation.

The newest addition to the site is the prototype of a bookstore (http://shop.autorenwelt.de). The underlying concept making this bookstore different is that we share its profits with out writers. ‘Our writers’ not meaning writers having published through us (as we don’t offer publishing, yet), but those that are signed up with us. This means that those writers can participate in what we call “Autorenprogramm”, effectively earning 7% of the revenue we make by selling any of their books. This is regardless of whom their books have been published with and on top of what they get from their publishers. 7% may not seem as much, but this is around what they writers get from their publishers per book as well — books have tight margins. Basically, you can think of our “Autorenprogramm” as an affiliate program, only that we do not keep score of where the buyer came from — regardless of where a reader comes from, writers get paid, if that person buys their book.

Of course, this will only work out, if writers are going to tell their readers that if they are going to buy their books, they better do so at Autorenwelt. This part is very much an integral part of the business model, as so far Autorenwelt does not have any channels to reach readers itself. This means that writers themselves will have to make sure their readers find us. In a fit of coquetry, I dubbed this concept “Crowd Marketing” during last month’s Crowd Dialog (http://crowddialog.de/), but by now I feel that it really does describe the concept quite well.

How are we going to compete in an industry that has a behemoth ruling the market and a number of other comfortably entrenched players? Luckily we do not have to do so on price, as Germany has a fixed book price agreement, which mandates that books be sold at the price set by the publisher, the same price everywhere. So how exactly are we going to compete? Quite frankly, we simply believe that, with the concept of “Crowd Marketing” and the two guiding principles of continuously creating more value for writers and connecting them to their readers, we will just be serving the market better.


What will this series be about?

So this is it for now — just a quick “Hello World” and introduction to Autorenwelt and this series. The (buzz-)words that will frame this series are: books, tech, teal, lean, agile.

Books — This is the industry that we are in. Currently, striving to make life easier for writers and working to redefine the interaction between writers and their readers, is our purpose.

Tech — We see ourselves as a tech company. Up until now not everyone on the team can code yet, but we are working on that. Being able to compete will also mean having very lean operations, something we will only achieve through excellence on the tech side. Also, this is how we will follow our guiding principles mentioned above.

Teal — We have all read or are currently reading “Re-inventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux and are very intrigued by the ideas and concept he describes. Not only do we see ourselves as a purpose-driven organization and shun the paradigm of maximizing shareholder value, but we are also exploring ways to do “startup” in a way that do not require us to constantly exude sweat, blood and tears. We strive to be “teal” in our interactions and the way we work.

Lean — All the while, we adhere to the lean startup principles. We are constantly discussing our business model and run experiments to scrutinize the assumptions we have about it. Learning (innovation accounting) comes first, revenue second.

Agile — We aim to be quick on our feet and try to align our structure and processes to reflect that goal. We do not only use Scrum for product development, but for any non-operational work that comes up. Doing so is fairly easy now, but retaining this quality will get more challenging as we grow.

So far so good. I congratulate you, if you read the whole article. If that is the case, there is a good chance that the rest of this series will not bore you either, but instead will be an interesting case study for you to dissect.

If you have any questions or thoughts about any of this, please reach out to me whichever way you prefer.

So long, happy holidays

Will

As an aside: Why am I writing this in English? Because I think our learnings might be useful to non-German speakers too. And because I believe that anyone who could appreciate these articles, if they were written in German, will also appreciate them in English.