|Sector||ICT for digital publishing|
|Target Users||Final users, mass market|
|Nature of the initiative||Private|
Co-founder and Chief Business Develoment Officer
24symbols is a service to read and discover digital books on the Internet and based on mobile subscription and membership models. In more detail, 24symbols is a multi-device, multi‐publisher service that enables users to read and share digital books on the cloud.
- No book download is required, as the book is ‘streamed’, like when listening to music on Spotify, or watching a clip on YouTube. There is, however, the offline reading option, which enables users to read on a device with no connectivity;
- Users can share book passages, books or author pages on their favorite social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or Pinterest.
Monetization comes from two models:
- D2C, freemium-based subscription. Users can register for free and read a limited subset of the commercial catalog, with some ads on the sides and interstitials of the book, and no offline reading available. Users can become premium users and enjoy the complete catalog, ad‐free and with offline reading available catalog, offline reading available)
- Credit‐based membership from mobile subscribers. 24symbols reaches deals with mobile carriers worldwide to offer this service. Users become members of the Book Club and get credits they can redeem in order to access any of the books in the catalog.
The demand for e-books is constantly increasing. However, its high price, partial unavailability and format heterogeneity is forcing frustrated users to turn to pirated content as a way to read what they want. This, plus the existence of other leisure options to digital users, is forcing the decrease in fulland market size of the publishing industry. The idea and vision behind 24symbols comes from one question and one insight:
- How to provide most books in the world, available to everyone, with the fairest possible price, and by being a hub where publishers, authors and readers could all feel comfortable?
- If you look at other cultural and entertainment industries, you can see a clear trend that goes from pure ownership to consumption. Spotify in the music industry or Netflix in the movie industry are two clear examples, but there are many others.
Merging these two things, 24symbols realized that in this time of changes in the publishing industry, a subscription service for books is something readers would probably love, and publishers would see as an alternative channel and part of the solution to some of the challenges they were (and are) facing right now.
Three years later, 24symbols finds an industry where:
- US/UK publishers accept digital books as the biggest revenue source for them, while the rest of industries is going just behind;
- some subscription services are appearing in different countries, some with strong investment/industrial support (24symbols in Spain, Oyster, Scribd in the US or Skoobe in Germany);
- the publishing industry starts to understand that newest technologies, like tablets or smartphones, have created a hybrid entertainment and cultural industry where books do not only compete among themselves, but against other media sources, like videogames, movies or music.
24symbols has spent the last three years talking to publishers, analysts and other stakeholders in the publishing industry in order to fully understand the extent to which these challenges can be tackled by a company like ours. It has participated and presented in the biggest and most important events, like the London Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair, Digital Book World and O’Reilly Tools of Change.
24symbols’ goal is, therefore, a subscription service with access to most available books in digital format, with no need for them to be downloaded, with additional capabilities that compel and attract digital users to reading (comprised of, but not limited to, great reading experience, ability to share books, author pages or book passages in the social networks, possibility for users to become digital librarians themselves, etc.)
24symbols offers a freemium-based subscription model that provides ROI based on pageviews and a credit‐based model (the Book Club) that provides ROI based on book reads (similar to a book sale). In both cases, these services offer real‐time usage stats and virality marketing to publishers through social reading. To advertisers, 24symbols provides access to high quality leads. To readers, this platform allows them to access catalog from several publishers worldwide at a very compelling price and in a multi-device environment, with no need to download e-books.
The role of technology
In a nutshell, 24symbols is a cloud reading service, with users having the chance to use different types of client apps. A web-based one meant mainly for desktop computers and laptops, an iOS native app for Apple iPad tablets and iPhone smartphones, an Android app for Android devices, and an HTML5‐based web site for other mobile devices.
The main work behind since 24symbols started its operations has been to create an internationally acknowledged cloud‐reading service with social capabilities (by not being a social network by itself, but using the best of the current ones, like Facebook or Twitter), and all in proven subscription-based business models.
To achieve this, the effort has been put on:
- top-class user experience and design, by using high‐quality design techniques and technologies (e.g. HTML5 and AJAX, infinite scrolling and 'flat design' approaches to design, etc.);
- simple and efficient cloud reader, a development from scratch of one of the best recognized cloud readers;
- multi‐device environment. The project incorporates book synchronization techniques on different cloud‐based and offline environments;
- secure and efficient offline read by using page cache management, encryption mechanisms by book, chapter and device type, and native improvements for each of the app types (web, HTML5, iOS, Android);
- statistics for publishers providing an innovative dashboard with traffic, social and financial information, taking advantage of the reading behavior information tracked by 24symbols. This information is used in order to inform users and publishers about aggregate data, and for 24symbols to improve on its tools by applying BigData techniques (stats, data mining, forecasting, ...);
- user engagement by developing hybrid technologies for book discovery, that match algorithmic recommendation engines and human curation by the use of virtual bookshelves, also implemented by the 24symbols core team;
- integration with mobile carriers. 24symbols is integrating with key carriers worldwide for them to offer cloud reading services served and provisioned by 24symbols. Therefore, the reading services are able to communicate at billing, reporting and subscription management levels with the carriers.
Technologies used, beyond HTML5 or js, include Ruby on Rails, with advanced research on page cache management. Additional back-end technologies include the current standards in e-publishing, such as EPUB 2 as e-book format (researching on EPUB 3), ONIX as metadata ingestion, or BISG EditX as Sales and Tax Reporting standard.
- Users: 24symbols has more than 450.000 registered users, with more than 100.000 pageviews per active user and month and a 20+% growth month over month. The subscribers read an average of 500.000 pages per user and month (high engagement). This has been achieved with zero EUR spent on marketing, by leveraging social media (the Facebook page has more than 25.000 fans, and there are more than 5.000 followers on Twitter), member‐get‐member actions built in the product and campaigns with local book‐related, hardware device (K‐Tuin, Spain’s biggest Apple reseller) and telco partners (Vodafone). The Book Club projects enable 24symbols to reach subscribers in order of millions per country. In Q1 2014 the plan is to launch at least 2 projects in LATAM, one in Europe and one in South East Asia
- Product: 24symbols has developed web, HTML5, native iOS (iPad, iPhone) and native Android app versions that are now available, being available on the Apple Store, Google Play, Kindle Store or Blackberry Store. This means that the users can now read from any mobile device with Internet access, with device synchronization. 24symbols just released the new version, Infinite, using Pinterest-like engagement tactics with high‐level user experience and design. The service is currently considered a top‐class cloud reader and the team is considering the patenting of some of our key technologies
- Publishing and Partnership deals: there are more than 150 publishers signed in Freemium, and more than 1.000 publishers in the Book Club, in Spain, UK, US, LATAM countries, Italy, etc. There are key publishers in the Spanish-speaking market, like SM, Siruela, Anagrama, Pearson, Editorial Roca, EDAF or Ediciones B. In the English‐speaking market, there are more than 500 publishers, with names such as Profile Books, Canongate, Infinite Ideas, Serpent's Tail and others. In Italy there is a deal with the aggregator Simplicissimus. In the short‐term, more big and mid‐size publishers will be joining soon as we are in very advanced negotiations. We have a worldwide distribution agreement with Zed, the leading mobile content provider, that provides 24symbols with access to key mobile carriers throughout the world
- Press: 24symbols has had lots of press coverage worldwide and has been deeply involved in the industry discussions about the present and future of publishing as stated by the participation as speakers and panelists in the main publishing events and conferences: London Book Fair, BookExpo America @NYC, Digital Book World @NYC, Frankfurt Book Fair, O'Reilly TOC, Guadalajara, etc.
- Awards: 24symbols is the proud winner of Seedcamp, the most prestigious European start-up program. It has also been shortlisted as Best Education and Best Culture start-up at The Europas Awards in 2013, in the FutureBook 2011 Innovation Awards’ Best Publishing start-up category, and finalists in the UK Technology Strategy Board’s ICTomorrow and IPG (UK’s Independent Publishing Guild) Publishing start-up contest in 2012, as well as making the Honorable List of the 2012 People Choice Awards at London Web Summit, 2012.
24symbols is highly scalable