Story Terrace, the Netherlands-founded autobiography publishing service that launched in the UK in 2015, announced last week that former eBay executive Francois Coumau and former Spotify vice president Angela Watts are joining c.e.o. Rutger Bruining and Marek Gumienny on its Board of Directors. Following strong sales growth for the third year running and a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2018, the start-up aims to expand the reach of its service with their help.
After eight years as one of the highest-ranking Spotify executives worldwide, Watts (below) will bring a fascinating perspective to this hybrid of supported and self-publishing. We caught up with her for a few questions as she joined the Story Terrace team.
Why Story Terrace, why now?
When Rutger, Story Terrace's founder, told me about the business, I really loved the idea and it struck a chord. And when I told friends, they became animated and immediately had a loved one in mind that they wanted to create a book for.... So Rutger and I kept talking and it felt like a particularly interesting time to be joining the board of directors. The company has learned a lot from its previous few hundred projects, tweaking its sales, editorial and productions processes so that it is more scalable than ever before - with the potential to be even more so. What we need now is awareness and education.
What insights do you expect to transfer from Spotify to the new role?
I'm helping the team tell their story and to create buzz and awareness around the concept - which frankly deserves more attention!
In general, what do you think the book trade could better learn from the music industry?
When piracy ravaged the music industry, consumers had become used to free (illegal) music – so the only way to get people back into a legal environment and back into paying for music again was with a free product - streaming - that was better than piracy. The more people used it, the more they loved it and the more they were willing to pay for it again. Now, ten years later, streaming is the biggest driver of growth in the music industry. I’m not implying that there is a direct parallel with the book trade here – but of course every industry should be constantly thinking one step ahead and able to adapt quickly to changes in consumer behaviour.
How can books compete with other, more passive entertainment forms?
It doesn't always have to be about competition – there are enough entertainment “use cases” for a plethora of forms to co-exist in parallel. Sometimes you want to truly focus on something - a book, a film, bingeing a box set. Sometimes you want to just dip in and out of the news or a radio programme that’s on in the background. Sometimes you want the TV on AND to scroll through your phone AND to be browsing the Sunday papers….
When you read a book, you give your undivided attention to that moment – a rare moment of focus in our increasingly frenetic, busy lives. Now imagine that book is the story of your father’s childhood of which you had only heard snippets until now. And imagine that book is a beautifully designed hardback that you can see your children and your children’s children reading in years to come. There is something uniquely powerful about a book – and when coupled with the real life story of someone who is dear to you, it becomes even more so.
In your experience, what’s the most important factor in translating a start-up to a sustainable business?
I don't think it’s possible to pick just one... so I'd love to pick three if that's okay! Firstly, instinct is everything - trust it every single time. Next, your people (and the culture they personify) are your best asset - look after them. And last, but perhaps most importantly, never ever lose the ability to be nimble and move fast. The minute you become unwieldy and bogged down in process is the minute you've lost to a competitor.
What’s the next big disruption you see hitting the publishing industry?
I’m no expert in book publishing and wouldn't dare pretend to be.... but I can certainly see the potential for Story Terrace to be an industry disruptor. While the company currently makes books for family and friends at scale, imagine the levels of content they will create when they start making hundreds of thousands of books....and the opportunities that would bring to the wider industry? It’s taking crowdsourcing and personalisation to new heights.