Justo Hidalgo, founder and chief development officer of Madrid-based 24symbols digital subscription reading service, announced at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo yesterday (14th) that the company is in a partnership with Facebook for its Internet.org programme.
Internet.org is a humanitarian initiative the goal of which is to provide Internet connectivity "to the two-thirds of the world's population that doesn't have it," as its stated mission puts it.
Hidalgo told The Bookseller, Colombia had become the newest country to enter the Internet.org project as of 2 p.m. Eastern time. 24symbols is part of the rollout there, as the programme's purveyor of books. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is in Bogota, holding the third in his series of international town hall events, concurrent with the Internet.org launch there.
A certain portion of the 24symbols library of more than 200,000 titles in 10 languages is being made available through the Internet.org app without charge. Users who would like to upgrade to the service's typical €9 subscription fee will be able to use the full service, but the crux of the offering today is that it is one of the suite of free services presented by the progamme to users in Colombia. Internet.org has launched previously in Tanzania and in Kenya, and has worked on improving service in Indonesia.
With Google present as the project's search engine, Wikipedia for encyclopedia, and so on, 24symbols arrives as the project's purveyor of book services. In each area of the rollout, local services also are brought online to augment such larger offerings as AccuWeather, BBC News, and Wattpad.
"We got in touch with them at Facebook," said Hidalgo [pictured, right]. "And one thing they didn't have was a book service."
In a prepared statement, Chris Daniels, vice president of Internet.org for Facebook said: "Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. Through the Internet.org app we are addressing two major barriers preventing people from getting online; affordability and awareness. Access to a set of free basic internet services can help get more people online and connecting to services they might not have access to otherwise."
In his own comment for the news release, Hidalgo said: "This agreement with Internet.org and Facebook means the coming of age of our start-up. We are excited about this challenge, and it allows us to fulfill a vocation that was at the same origin of our project: to increase the access to reading, and help create new generations of readers worldwide."
As Hidalgo described it to The Bookseller in New York, the users in Colombia will not even encounter a login when they access 24symbols through the Internet.org app. Participation in the programme requires no financial investment from 24symbols, he says, but provision of the subscription reading service -- designed for mobile devices -- as part of the set of offerings the app will offer.
Hidalgo said that 24symbols has also been accepted for the FBStart programme, Facebook's specialized accelerator created "to help early stage mobile startups build and grow their apps."
Hidalgo was a speaker at The FutureBook 2014 Conference in November in London, and wrote about his comments here in How conversations will shape the future of content retailing.
In that article, he wrote: "One of the key reasons I started 24symbols was because I wanted to create a company where tech would be a means to an end, not an end in itself. This rules us out as a pure tech org (as important, critical and core tech can be). We don't feel that we're a pure retailer either. We sell subscriptions, yes, but our conversations have always been about user experience and reader engagement, beyond pure revenue."
When he was interviewed by The Bookseller in a Porter Anderson Meets conversation, he explained the name 24symbols: "It's the number of letters in the greek alphabet. It's also a great name as it starts with a number so in investor pitching events, we go first or last."