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Based in Berlin, Quillp is a social network centred around books, which launched last year. It provides users with the chance to connect with other book lovers, recommend good reads, as well as allowing new authors to upload their work and get some exposure.
I've been talking to founder Alexander Braun about Quillp, providing product recommendations, and his experiences at last year's Seedcamp, at which Quillp made the finals...
What was your background before launching Quillp?
Rolf and I have been online and putting together websites from the very early days, dating back as far as 1992. After graduating from Business School, I developed and launched online models within Bertelsmann in the UK, China, and Canada for four years, and authored and co-authored books on Artificial Intelligence, Web 2.0, and the impact of the internet on the publishing industry, while Rolf founded the IT-Consulting and Web-Development company Agentur Kunstwort, developing internet-solutions for international clients.
Where did the idea for Quillp come from?
Many friends of mine have written great stories that have been turned down time and time again by agents or editors at publishing houses. They are in great company of authors like J.K. Rowling – her Harry Potter has been turned down twelve times.
Publishers have to make a decision whether to publish something or not as considerable upfront investments are involved with printing and marketing a new book, with an uncertain outcome, and books don't sell most of the time. In an offline world publishing is therefore about creating gatekeepers to manage the scarcity of resources.
In an online world, however, to publish one extra e-book costs next to nothing, creating a completely new environment of abundance: it is not about gatekeepers anymore, everybody can put his or her ideas out there without having to convince anybody to make an investment first. Let the people decide what they want to read, even if you have an audience of just ten readers it’s better than just having your manuscripts collect dust on your desk at home.
What is still limited in such an environment, though, is time, the reader’s attention. It is therefore key to create relevance to this specific new manuscript that might interest me, or else I won’t find it and won’t bother looking for it. That’s the problem of existing online-publishing platforms or print-on-demand publishers which only focus on new content without bringing readers to the table and creating relevance for them: they are selling about two copies on average; there are probably a lot of books in there which have way more potential but nobody is going to discover it. That’s what quillp is trying to change.
How will you make money from the site – any plans to introduce advertising or will you be relying on affiliate links to booksellers?
Quillp is going to be a freemium model; revenues will be generated through a number of channels:
- affiliate links to book sellers
- highly targeted advertising to readers through detailed insights into their reading preferences
- rev-share model with authors on content sold through the site (print-on-demand; ebooks)
- subscription fee for premium services
Who are your main competitors in this area?
We have no direct competition as so far only partial elements of quillp are covered in the market. For books and social networking there is librarything.com, goodreads.com and shelfari.com. There are other sites for authors or print-on-demand, including Lulu.com and fanfiction.net.
How big is the team behind the site? How are you funded?
We have a team of 5, and have a mixture of self funding and angel investment.
How do you provide book recommendations for quillp users?
Collaborative filtering as provided by Amazon is only the start; it falls short for the following reasons:
- Not all my book purchases go through Amazon; many go through offline book stores or other websites which Amazon does know nothing about, therefore Amazon has only limited insight into my actual library, it only knows my Amazon purchase history.
- About 40% of all books are purchased as presents; if I purchase a book on pregnancy for my sister on Amazon today, I’m getting lots of pregnancy books recommended next time I visit Amazon.
Quillp therefore uses the collaborative filtering pulled in via Amazon web services only as a first step; via insight into the actual user libraries and their ratings and the matching of similarities of actual libraries of other users, extensive tagging information, and a number of other factors, we are currently devising an algorithm which will provide much more meaningful recommendations.
Equally important as the title based match based on algorithm, however, is the social dimension which adds relevance to books based on friends or read-alikes reading it (bandwagon effect); the emphasis is therefore on system-provided recommendations as much as on making the social exploration of relevant books as fun and simple as possible.
The insight into readers’ libraries and their reading preferences also builds the foundation for systematically recommending new authors and manuscripts to them, leading them from the short head of well-known content into the long-tail of undiscovered authors – the key dimension pure-play print-on-demand or online publishing platforms fall short on, failing to create relevance into the long-tail and therefore making the discovery of tomorrow’s stars equally a game of chance as in traditional publishing, just as sites like Last.fm and iTunes are more sophisticated than early sites like mp3.com.
What are the biggest challenges in building up the userbase for sites like Quillp?
It’s always a chicken and egg problem for all networks: the more users you have the more valuable it becomes for new users to join. Since quillp is much more content based, however, and we are tying together a lot of fragmented content around a specific book and author from all over the web in one place, we have an edge over pure-play-networks, which only start to provide any form of value once a huge user base has been accumulated.
On top of that we are aiming at solving the major pain of authors and publishers: getting someone to read your manuscript and evaluating the potential of a manuscript. We are therefore very confident that quillp will gain critical mass quickly.
Have many potential authors uploaded their work? How does the system work?
Yes, the response has been very good; the typical distribution of 1% contributors is in the 10% range at quillp.
What are you doing to promote the site?
It needs to grow bottom up; therefore the site clearly needs to be the best, most fun, and easiest to use out there and based on the reviews we’ve been getting so far we’ve pretty much succeeded on all of those fronts. Combined with the unique approach of bringing readers and authors together, the most important factor is to have users promote the site for us out of their own interest and the value they are getting out of it.
Aside from site/feature aspects this will be fostered by a number a substantial partnerships we are currently working on and the full set of standard online marketing including SEO and social media, with a twist you will be seeing in the next couple of weeks.
You made it to the Seedcamp finals – was this a valuable experience for you?
It has been an exceptional experience: 20 teams in one-on-ones with 200 stellar entrepreneurs and investors over the course of a full week; to get their full attention, advice, and network at such an early stage would be close to impossible without Seedcamp.
Saul Klein, Reshma Sohoni, and the whole team are doing an amazing job in fostering entrepreneurship in Europe. I can only recommend Seedcamp to every startup as a great learning and networking experience.
Any plans for a mobile version?
Yes, there are a number of initiatives we have outlined. We can’t share all ideas at this point yet but we are definitely going to make use of the potential the mobile internet can have by combining preferences and location, both to the benefit of promoting authors as to creating value for the readers.
What next for quillp? Do you have a target to reach for the number of users in Germany and beyond?
Opening the site up to the public and search engines; we can’t reveal too much on our user target by market at this point.