BookTech Showcase: Reedsy

BookTech Showcase: Reedsy

"The name is meant to refer to reeds," not reading, according to Reedsy's chief operating officer Ricardo Fayet. We interviewed him a bit over a year ago here at The FutureBook, as the fledgling outfit was getting under way and talking "collaboration tools" that still are to come. Now, as Molly Flatt gives us this third in her series of eight FutureBook Conference 2015 BookTech Showcase profiles, we hear from chief executive Emmanuel Nataf, "a 25-year-old French kid with no prior experience in the industry." Reedsy presses on into its second year and toward its 4th December date with the BookTech Showcase judges at "the intersection of culture and technology." Flatt assures us: "Nataf is nothing if not ambitious."—Porter Anderson

Emmanuel Nataf, Founder and c.e.o. of Reedsy, has a dirty secret. “We can’t help but admire Amazon,” he admits. “I think none of us would be here, talking about this, if they hadn’t disrupted the industry in the first place.”

What we’re here to talk about is innovation in the book world, and it’s a topic on which Nataf is well-qualified to speak. Reedsy was founded only in the spring of 2014 but this curated marketplace for publishing professionals is already making waves. After receiving 7,000 initial applications, the platform now boasts more than 300 professional freelance designers, editors and marketers, many of whom come from big-name houses and some of whom have worked with the likes of Ken Follett, Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin, Stephen King and Jodi Picoult. The charismatic Nataf’s media instincts have seen glowing writeups appear in The Guardian, TechCrunch and Forbes.

Services added since launch include an interface that streamlines the book production workflow; another that allows publishers to manage multiple projects in one place; and the company is also about to release a free collaborative book editing tool.

Nataf says he is only just getting started. “Eventually we'd like to offer a full-stack platform for book production,” he explains. “Over the coming months we will be adding many more services: ghostwriting, translation, production management and fact-checking, to name a few. We'd like to become the backbone of the industry, helping authors and publishers produce beautiful high-quality books. Then, we will build on our experience designing curated communities to create more tools for authors to find their audience.”

Big plans for a 25-year-old French kid with no prior experience in the industry, but then Nataf is nothing if not ambitious. Having spent six years studying towards a Masters at Rouen Business School while moonlighting as a management consultant, he dropped out three months before the end of the course when Reedsy got selected for Shoreditch’s Seedcamp. He decided to relocate to London and work on the startup full time.

“Needless to say management consultancy wasn't the world I wanted to evolve in,” Nataf laughs. “I’ve always been passionate about anything at the intersection of culture and technology; for instance, I'm also a photographer with more than 50 million views of my pictures online. Three years ago, after reading on a Kindle for years, I realised how self-publishing could change the publishing industry and started to learn about the space. At the same time, I noticed that many top publishing professionals were no longer working in-house but as freelancers instead. I saw an opportunity to bring the level of quality found at traditional publishers to the indie world.”

He wasn’t the only one. "Author services" have become a booming market, but most companies in the field such as Lulu and Whitefox offer branded packages, rather than a DIY mix-and-match marketplace focused on individual freelancers. It is this model, plus continual innovation, that Nataf says he believes will ensure Reedsy’s success, and he plans to open-source as much of their data as possible as the platform grows.

“I believe we need to find the right balance between being a product-driven and a customer-driven company,” he says. “The publishing industry is fearful of change and many companies end up not being bold enough, trying to fix the past instead of inventing the future.”

But how will Reedsy balance its plans to scale fast with that crucial element that makes a marketplace valuable—curation and quality control? “Our current model has been designed for a high volume of transactions and should scale smoothly,” Nataf says. “We have built a robust back end that allows us to monitor our marketplace easily via a set of KPIs [key performance indicators]. They allow us to constantly improve liquidity, adding more suppliers only when there is demand.”

Along with Amazon, Nataf says he also admires author crowdfunding platform Unbound, for “putting curation at the very core of their model, and only pushing books to the market that readers want to read.” It’s a strategic answer, considering Unbound’s Dan Kieran will be one of the judges grilling Nataf at the live BookTech pitch-off in December, but it’s also undeniably heartfelt.

“As a young company entering an industry with well-established players,” he concludes, “it’s been a challenge to build trust. We really do want to show people we are a credible partner that could be relied on to craft high-quality books.”

He smiles. “But then Reedsy is being adopted by a growing number of authors and publishers each day, so it seems our efforts are paying off.”

The BookTech Showcase (#BookTech) is a new element of the FutureBook Conference. Hosted by tech and culture journalist Molly Flatt, the session invites eight book tech companies to take part in a live pitch-off for a panel of industry and tech experts. A real-time vote will then determine the winners of the bronze, silver and gold FutureBook Awards. The overall winner will be named The FutureBook BookTech Company of the Year 2015.

The judges of the showcase, who will interrogate attendees from the selected book tech companies, are Hannah Telfer, Group Director of Consumer and Digital Development at Penguin Random House UK; Dan Kieran, CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound; and Eileen Burbidge, Partner at Passion Capital and one of the UK’s most influential tech venture capitalists.

In Molly Flatt's series on the contenders:

To book tickets, please visit the FutureBook Conference site.