Starts Ups at CONTEC

As part of this year’s CONTEC conference at Frankfurt, the evident start-up focus kicked off with a great group of speakers pitching to a pseudo dragon’s den judging panel made up of Patrick Bradley from Ingenious Media, Hanno Hepke from Warth & Klein Grant Thornton and Nick Perrett, Group Strategy and Digital Director from Harper Collins.

First up was Tarryn-Anne Anderson from Paperight. Paperight turns any business with any printer and an Internet connection into a print-on-demand bookstore. By registering with Paperight for free, copy shops anywhere in the world have access to an online library from which they can legally print out books, magazines and other documents for their customers. All a customer has to do to get a book is to walk into a Paperight outlet, and ask for one. Paperight lets publishers earn licence fees from legal print-outs of their books, cutting out expensive distribution and printing costs, and passing those savings on to customers. A customer pays the outlet (e.g. a copy shop) for their print-out, and the outlet uses Paperight to pay the publisher. It hopes to make buying and selling books easier and, overall, more cost-effective for everyone anywhere – and their pitch stresses that a key objective is to work in parts of the world that risk being left behind by the digital revolution. The judges quizzed Anderson on how Paperight would counteract the issues of copyright – something which they hope to handle through ‘education’ around copyright and social DRM. In their first year, Paperight already has 100 publishers (including Elsevier, OUP, CUP, Pearson etc.) and 200 outlets – so looks like one to watch.

Mangoreader confidently describe themselves as a “YouTube for children’s educational reading material”. The straff describe themselves as ‘a passionate team of entrepreneurs, hackers, developers, problem solvers, thinkers, designers, creators, writers, readers on a mission to make book interactive, engaging and fun. (…) redefining books and publishing, but reinventing the way people learn.” It’s hoping to bring the best learning experience to students and teachers around the world through an innovative reading platform. All MangoBooks contain highly interactive animations, videos, music and features like recording, notes, dictionary, sharing features and much more. The translation feature is presented as a key aspect of the project – enabling quick translations of content within the site. Judge Nick Perrett asks if Mangoreader needs to focus its offering, other judges are impressed by its translation functionality but ask how quality will be monitored.

Audio Guide Me is a collaborative audio guide, with user and publisher content. Currently in open beta, its users can also record their own content. Forty partners have already provided content to the app linked to specific locations, with links to buy audiobooks. Meanwhile Music Logistics hope to help facilitate direct to consumer marketing via its platform.

Last to pitch – but definitely not least – was Italian startup PubCoder, an interactive publishing tool – a desktop app taking advantage of epub3 – will enable writers and publishers to create interactive ebooks. The tool aims to help publishers and writers easily create digital and interactive books – you can recognize users’ gestures and connect them to animated effects: rotate, move, enlarge and reduce, shake, show and hide objects; create animations and behaviors, and combine them to match your taste. You can lay out all sorts of digital assets (images, texts, audio files, videos etc) and combine them to a wide variety of events and actions. They’ve already transformed over 200 ebooks and are definitely one to watch in the coming months.

The CONTEC conference ended with a session looking at start ups, technology companies, and publishers who have joined forces share their stories and discuss how such partnerships can result in powerful platforms that can compete with the likes of Amazon and other market share gorillas. Richard Nash from Small Demons, joined Eldars Loginovs from Fastr, Justo Hidalgo from 24 Symbols and Nathan Hull from Penguin UK.

The debate pointed to a shift-change in the ways in which publishers have grown in their capacity to interact with startups, with Nathan Hull from Penguin suggesting that “publishers should be going to tech hubs and telling start-ups what problems they need to have solved”. This echoes attempts being made by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (icTomorrow) with their Digital Innovation Contests – already successfully teaming up start ups with Constable & Robinson and HarperCollins UK following a pitch process.

On the question of whether publishers should be using their expertise and knowledge of the complex issues at stake to try and incubate their own start-ups (demonstrated skillfully by Bonnier’s R&D team with kids apps developers Toca Boca), Penguin’s Hull responded in admitting that Penguin and other major publishers were still “sitting on the fence” with in-house R&D. Penguin’s foray into its content partnership with Moshi Monsters is a step in the right direction, but presumably doesn’t have the same commercial benefits of incubating start-ups in-house. One twitter comment makes that same point, “Publishers develop authors. Why not startups?”.

CONTEC ends with the announcement that Paperight is the winning start up for the judging panel – based on its impressive team and impressive traction. The runner up – for proprietary technology, focus and emphasis on learning but foremost for its philosophy – was PubCoder . Look forward to hearing more from these start ups – and others – over the coming months.

This post first appeared on the Frankfurt Book Blog

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