Inkitt, which bills itself as “the world’s first reader-powered book publisher,” has raised $3.9 million in pre-series A funding, in a round led by Redalpine, with Frontline Ventures, Speedinvest and a number of private investors also participating. The Berlin-based startup is part writing and reading community, and part publishing house, with one aspect feeding the other.
Let me explain.
The Inkitt online community consists of a forum to post writing work in-progress and get feedback, and to solicit support for things like editing and plot development. However, a major focus — and key to the startup’s unique publishing model — is the beta readers section.
Here Inkitt members are encouraged to post full manuscripts to be read by the app’s over a million readers. This is a way to get reader reviews and further feedback, but can also lead to a publishing deal with Inkitt itself if the reader engagement data the company collects points to a potential best-seller.
“We analyse reader behaviour, analyse their engagement,” Inkitt founder Ali Albazaz tells me. “If they start reading and stay up all night to continue reading, if they use every break during the day to continue reading your story, we look at this reader behaviour in order to see if a book is good or not good”.
In addition, since Inkitt employs Facebook log in, the startup has demographic data on its readers and this, says Albazaz, puts it in a position to be able to make decisions very objectively. “If we see that the metrics are great, we offer the author a publishing deal,” he says, which covers ebooks, print, audio books, movie rights, and merchandise rights.
To date, the company has published 24 books, of which 22 have become Amazon best sellers. “We are basically a full publishing house but without acquisition editors,” says Albazaz. “Inkitt is about author equality not about what you have done before or the network you have. Three years later we are proving that our approach works. We are able to predict best sellers with incredible accuracy”.
Meanwhile, Albazaz regards Inkitt’s most direct competitor as Chuangshi by Tencent, a large fiction site in China. “It is our main global competition, but also our main proof point for a successful data-driven fiction publisher. Tencent’s service focuses exclusively on China,” he says.
Otherwise, the Inkitt founder reckons that, with the exception of Amazon, few publishing houses work extensively with data science or use online to its full potential. Instead they still rely on gut-level decision-making by literary agents who in turn pitch a publisher where an editor ultimately decides whether or not a work is sellable.