A group of startups met up this week in Redmond for the first Ebook Innovation Summit, a small gathering of companies involved in different aspects of the electronic book business — spending the day demonstrating their latest projects and talking about their common challenges.
The summit highlighted the emergence of an innovative segment of the startup community, rising up in the shadow of Amazon.com, and working on ebook technologies for a variety of platforms.
Roy Leban, whose startup Puzzazz makes puzzle books for Amazon’s Kindle, organized the event. He said afterward that he was surprised — and pleased — to learn that many of the startups in the sector face similar challenges, particularly in dealing with large partners, and in ensuring that they can provide top-quality content to their customers.
Free content was also a big topic, with many of the startups finding that it can be worthwhile as an opener given the willingness of many readers to also pay for content in premium formats.
After the event, Leban collected key takeaways from several of the attendees. Here are a couple of the highlights.
Katherine Sears, vice president and chief marketing officer for Booktrope Publishing, which uses a team publishing concept to streamline the creation of books in print, web and electronic formats:
“There are many ways to spin the ebook situation today, but that the hardware/software technology is the key to success as well as failure. Most of us are heavily dependent on third parties: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Adobe are the primaries. That makes the ability to innovate a bit of an uphill battle at times.
“If partners such as Amazon and Apple truly want to encourage entrepreneurs, establishing a group focused on emerging business overall would be a great idea. As it stands, each area requires a separate group, contact and set of rules, which makes it challenging just to be aware of the requirements. When it comes to ebooks, as with many technology innovations, content is king. Encouraging and mentoring quality content would be a natural evolution of good business practices.”
Richard Luck of LoudLever, which makes the HeyPublisher technology and WordPress plugin that lets writers submit content and helps publishers manage submissions:
“Even though our bread and butter is short-form content (think magazines and periodicals), we share many of the same challenges as the other book publishing companies. We’re beholden to Amazon’s pricing decisions, our readers expect the same reading experience regardless of device, and getting high quality content in the front door and through the sausage making machine in a timely manner continues to be a challenge.
“That said, we all seem to be more effective at doing this than the ‘big guys’ — so that’s huge plus for the nascent publishing industry in Seattle.”
Others taking part in the summit included social reading and publishing platform BookieJar, profiled in this earlier GeekWire post; and Bluefire Productions, which makes customized reading applications for iOS and Android. (Also see this previous GeekWire post on Bluefire.)
The startups plan to start holding quarterly meetups to continue the conversation as the group grows.