By 2007, the Internet was well on its way to transforming the music industry, with musicians beginning to take advantage of its perks, including more direct access to fans and more control over their content. So Chris Howard and Richard Hawthorn decided to find out what might happen if eBooks became as popular as their musical counterparts. Around that time, they launched a site called Libboo, which essentially crowdsources the book-writing process, providing writers with an online community to collaborate and publish digital books. The site produced some intriguing experiments, but didn’t stop any hearts.
After becoming a 2011 MassChallenge finalist and graduating from TechStars Boston, Libboo shifted gears earlier this year, moving away from crowdsourced, team publishing to discovery. The idea being that books still lack their Pandora — a killer discovery mechanism that helps everyday readers find new, unknown authors and in turn helps wordsmiths expose their work to new audiences.
The startup’s new direction has since caught the attention of investors, with Libboo today officially announcing that it has raised $1.1 in seed financing, led by Boston-based VC firm MassVentures. The round also includes investments from Bantam Group, Hubspot Founder Dharmesh Shah, Avid and Wildfire Communications founder Bill Warner and Don McLagan, the former president and CEO of Compete, among others.
Just as Prescreen and others have attempted to do for film and filmmakers, Libboo is on a mission to create a better way for independent and established authors to get their work discovered — and to be rewarded for producing awesome content. In today’s world, talent tends to get lost amidst the noise, so Libboo is attempting to provide authors and publishers with an alternative to focusing all their energies on creating hits — content they know has a better shot at becoming a hit.
To do this, Libboo connects “buzzers,” or those readers who are vocal in support of great books and content with indie authors they’ll enjoy, based on their taste profiles. In turn for helping to expose authors’ works to new audiences via social networking, blogs and email, readers are rewarded with free eBooks and are given the opportunity to increase their influence within the Libboo community, becoming prime targets for future perks from authors and publishers alike.
Libboo CEO Chris Howard says that his company is on a mission to create a new avenue for books to become bestsellers. Under the current model, it really doesn’t matter how good the book is if no one is going to read it, so by creating a forum that attracts avid readers and sharers, Libboo is hoping to create a ready-made sea of eyeballs that will help authors increase their reach and act as a sandbox that will surface the best content and the next big digital bestseller.
The funding follows on the heels of a big strategic announcement last week, in which Libboo announced that it will be partnering with Houghton Mifflin to bring the publishing house’s debut and emerging authors to the Libboo community. The three-month pilot program will give Libboo users early access to Houghton’s content, along with promotions and perks designed to create new buzz for previously released titles and to bring exposure to debut authors.
Libboo is still refining its discovery mechanism for authors, but if the startup can help set the table for a new generation of bestsellers and help publishers’ ignite interest in indie titles, there’s reason to be hopeful about this model. Beyond partnerships, Libboo’s plans to monetize are still working themselves out, but depending on how much buzz the startup can create for new titles (and how well it measures that increase), it’s not hard to imagine that authors and/or publishers would be happy to pay for that service.
When we asked Hubspot founder Dharmesh Shah why he invested in Libboo, he gave an answer that will likely resonate with many avid readers:
I invested for two very simple reasons: Firstly, Libboo is trying to tackle a massively inefficient market that needs to be disrupted — helping people connect with authors and books that they’ll love. And the second reason is that I’m irritated that the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy occupies 4 of the top 10 bestseller’s list. I think Chris [Howard] and team can restore my faith in humanity and help deserving authors get discovered.
Libboo at home here.
TechStars Demo Day pitch below: