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Digital Publishing Startups in the Tech Marketplace

Thad McIlroy has reported that over the past decade, there have been around 900 publishing startups in the United States. It follows on from Michael Bhaskar’s list of the ever-expanding digital startups first started in 2014. Bhaskar lists over 300 companies and organisations that vary in size, but all work around the web and writing. Both lists give a strong indication of the innovation within book publishing and where it is headed.  

What is more interesting is how some of these propositions position themselves. For example, Unbound describes itself as acrowdfunding publisherand Lost My Name describes itself as ‘a full-stack technology startup’.

We take a look at some of the recent startups making waves in the publishing world and focus in on how they are positioning their businesses in the technology marketplace.

Lost My Name

Lost My Name, the London based startup for personalised picture books for kids – launched in 2012, and has sold more than 2.6 million picture books. The company describes itself as a ‘full-stack technology startup’ rather than a book publisher.

They run a vertically integrated operation, creating the stories and illustrations in-house, but also the technology to customise the £18.99 books and order them online, as well as handling the printing, distribution and marketing.

In 2014, it raised its first $100k of funding on TV show Dragon’s Den from investor Piers Linney. In 2015, it turned to Silicon Valley’s Google Ventures and Greycroft, and Allen & Co. for a $9m funding round. It later extended its Series A round and secured an additional €4 million from Berlin-based VC, Project A.

In April 2017, the Roald Dahl Literary Estate and Lost My Name announced they were to be teaming up to develop a new personalised book for release on Roald Dahl Day, September 13th, 2017.


Radish is a new app for serialised fiction, designed for the mobile generation. Co-founded by CEO Seung-Yoon “Sy” Lee, whose previous company was crowdfunded journalism platform Byline Media and Yun Cho in February, 2015, New York, they raised $3M in seed funding from 14 investors including Amy Tan, Bertelsmann, Peter Bazalgette and Sherpa Capital earlier this year. Its headquarters are in Los Angeles and it has offices in Seoul and New York.

The inspiritaion for the serialization model dates back to Charles Dickens and more recently, to the freemium online publishing model which has already had astounding success in East Asia. Now, with Radish, they want to bring this revolution in storytelling to the West.

The model was also inspired by mobile games such as Candy Crush, where people have become used to mobile micro-payments.

Users can test out a book by reading several free instalments and then can make a micropayment to provide early access to each chapter thereafter.

Radish currently hosts around 700 active writers who create original serialized fiction for around 300,000 readers. The leading author on the platform is reported to be making $13,000 per month.


Described as a digital productivity coach, Prolifiko founders Chris Smith and Bec Evans, decided to build something similar to Fitbit or RunKeeper for writers, using scalable, persuasive technology to start people writing, help them develop and improve.

Their research-backed system, first known as Write Track, has helped hundreds of people complete all kinds of creative, educational and professional writing projects including Wyl Menmuir who used the platform to help him write his booker-longlisted debut novel.

They launched a Kickstarter campaign in January 2017 to turn the initial prototype writing productivity coaching product and system into an app. The campaign received 166 backers, but did not reach its £15,000 fundraising target.

Serial Box

Founded by Molly Barton and Julian Yap, Serial Box is a new kind of reading venture blending the best of series television and the convenience of ebooks and audiobooks to bring readers a new form of storytelling.

It has been described as “HBO for readers’, “the newest medium for series drama” and “a new kind of publishing company for a new age”, with one “episode” a week, each penned by a different writer over the course of 10-16 week seasons. The episodes are delivered straight to the user’s digital device, and it is suggested a Serial Box episode takes an  average reading time of 42 mins.

Serial Box differs from other episodic publishing models in that all content is original and has been developed specifically for the platform.


Co-founded by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen in 2006, Wattpad is a free app that lets people discover and share stories about the things they love. The online community reports it now has 45 million users and 300 million stories uploaded.

They have raised $66.8M in 6 rounds of investment, from 12 investors including Angel funding from Alan Levine, Bert Amato and Harvey Beck. In the coming months, the company looks to shift from a mobile-first storytelling platform to a full-stack entertainment company. They want to develop more franchises like After, which was published and sold 5 million copies worldwide before being developed into a movie by Paramount, and to distribute these productions through the Wattpad platform.

Wattpad focuses on monetizing its content through divisions like Wattpad Brands, which allows brands to connect with users; and Wattpad Studios, which saw it secure partnerships with major networks like Turner and NBCUniversal to co-produce Wattpad content for movies and TV.

The company’s latest development is the launch of Wattpad Labs, an innovation lab for emerging products. Wattpad is inviting teams of two or three to work on “storytelling products” for three months in a paid residency program.

Describing themselves as a premier subscription reading service, Scribd was founded in 2005 in San Francisco by Jared Friedman, Tikhon Bernstam, and John R. Adler. It has raised over $47.76M in 6 rounds of funding from 14 investors including Craig Sherman, David Sacks and Jeff Jordan.

The company has been dubbed the “Netflix for eBooks” by Wired – subscribers can enjoy access to 3 books and 1 audiobook each month, plus unlimited access to magazines and documents, for $8.99 a month.

It expanded into magazine content last November, featuring current and archived stories from New York MagazinePeopleTime, and more. In May 2017, it started adding articles from the New York TimesWall Street JournalThe Guardian, and Financial Times to its existing content. It’s also introducing platform enhancements, including enhanced recommendation tools that feature the articles right next to its existing selection of content.


Nicholas Ciarelli and Josh Schanker founded BookBub in 2012, and raised $10.8m in funding in 2 rounds from 4 investors including Bloomberg Beta and Avalon Ventures.

Describing itself as an eBook promotion company, the digital-first free service helps millions of readers discover limited-time deals on acclaimed ebooks through daily email mailouts.

Currently, it has 5 million plus registered readers in US and 2 million in the UK. The free service helps millions of readers discover great deals on acclaimed ebooks while providing publishers and authors with a way to drive sales and find new fans.

Members receive a personalized daily email alerting them to the best free and deeply discounted titles matching their interests as selected by our editorial team. BookBub works with all major ebook retailers and devices, and is the industry’s leading ebook price promotion service.

In 2015, it expanded its international market in India.


HOOKED (formerly Telepathic) describes itself as redefining storytelling for the Snapchat generation. Founded in 2014, it received $6.05M in 5 Rounds of funding, from 24 investors including Greylock Partners, Foundation Capital and WME Venture.

Every HOOKED story is told as a bite-sized text message conversation, as if you were reading someone else’s chat history and lets you read them free. The HOOKED team believes there is a billion-dollar opportunity in bringing “lean” principles to the development and distribution of mass-market fiction, and in presenting stories as a mobile-first experience.

The mobile-first storytelling format enables more teenagers to read fiction through the format of text messages. Inital a/b testing showed that almost every teenager who started reading the chat story, finished it in one session.

While the app itself is free, users have to pay for the full experience, which costs $2.99 per week or $39.99 per year.

HOOKED’s long-term vision is to release stories across multiple channels, including apps, video and virtual reality.


Unbound, was founded in 2011 by writers Dan Kieran, John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard and received $1.82M in 2 rounds of funding from investors including Cambridge Angels group and Draper Esprit.

It describes itself as a crowdfunding publisher that gives people the tools, support and freedom to bring their ideas to life. The model shifts the balance of power and offers a new way for readers to access books they want to read.

They report that over 121,678 people from every corner of the globe have supported an Unbound project. To date, they’ve published 250 books that only exist thanks to the Unbound community.

In 2017, it launched a new audio and podcasting arm Unbound Audio, with an exclusive new audio project “Inside Donald Trump” from broadcaster and comedy writer Andy Hamilton.


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