Has Spanish startup BTwinBooks finally cracked book bundling?

Has Spanish startup BTwinBooks finally cracked book bundling?

Many have tried bundling physical books with their digital content - and many have failed. Will BTwinBooks's IoT technology triumph?

The pitch

BTwinBooks promises a "seamless" digital and physical bundle solution for books. Using proprietary Internet of Things-based technology, the company assigns a unique ID to physical books which gives immediate access to associated digital content, such as ebooks, audiobooks, alternative language editions, multimedia content and managed readers' groups. Publishers and authors are able to safeguard the intellectual property rights(IPR) related to their digital content, monitor reading preferences and experiences, and open up a direct line of communication to their readers.

"Life is not physical or digital, why should the reading experience be?" asks co-founder Fernando San Martin. "Our solution allows readers to adapt their reading to any circumstance. For relaxed reading they might prefer a paper book, for commuting they can switch to their mobile device, and when driving or running they can turn to the audiobook. It also allows publishers to better adjust the nature of what they offer, the authors they sign, the scale of their print runs… we hope BTwinBooks will pave the way for a true digital ecosystem where readers, publishers and authors will find common ground."

The team

The Madrid-based BTwinBooks is run by a seven-strong team with backgrounds spanning the publishing, technology and digital business industries.

Between them, San Martin and his fellow co-founder Enrique Zorrilla boast over 40 years' executive experience in the international strategy, innovation management and digital transformation fields, and San Martin is a partner at Bamboo Seed Capital, an early-stage seed capital fund focused on investing in rapid-growth tech companies.

From the publishing side, c.e.o. Josep M. Mas has spent 20 years in international publishing companies, mainly in Europe and Asia, for 20 years, while c.m.o. José Luis Ramírez owns a mid-sized Spanish publishing company and is founder of the largest reader community social network in Spanish, quelibroleo.com. 

C.o.o. Lucia Garate, business development director Unai Labirua and c.t.o. Pablo Martínez provide the tech chops, with half a century of experience in the telco technology development arena between them.

What's the gap in the market?

The case for bundling is pretty clear. "There is a common agreement in the industry that bundling physical, digital, audio and multimedia content fits with market need," San Martin agrees. "The main motivation in southern Europe, Latin America and Asia is a need to prevent privacy, while data management and added value for both readers and publishers emerges as the top priority for& central and northern Europe and the US."

However, although bundling has been attempted by several companies in the past couple of decades - from Kindle MatchBook, to the Harper Collins-backed BitLit Media, to the 2015 BookTech finalist Shulph - it consistently fails to find its feet. So what makes the BTwinBooks team think they've cracked a complex challenge?

"We believe we have competitive advantage in two main areas," San Martin insists. "The first is our technology. We use IoT technology that has been developed in the telecommunication sector, nurtured in the gaming industry, and then customised to the publishing sector's needs. This type of technology is way more advanced than that formerly used in book bundling, and it gives us the chance to monitor a vast number of digital IDs, across all sorts of content, in real time.

"Our second differentiator is in user experience. We really do believe that BTwinBooks enables the reader to have a seamless experience, getting the best from both physical and digital content, without breaching digital IPR. The real-time control and access publishers gain doesn't just prevent piracy, it provides them with rich data to understand readers' behaviour: speed, location, interaction, specific interests, “abandoned” books… all segmented by socio-demographic profile.

More than anything, San Martin believes that his team can succeed where others have failed because they combine insights and experience built up across different sectors and areas of knowledge, combining publishing nous with technical skill and digital business leadership.

Success so far?

It's early days for BTwinBooks, but they've hit a few key milestones. The first solid version of the software is up and running, and they're currently focusing on refining user experience. They've done some large publisher validation, bringing some trials to the market with publishing and entertainment group Planeta. "Those implementations demonstrated its feasibility, receptivity by readers and impact in the market," San Martin reports.

They've secured agreements with midsize Dutch publisher, Mavens, to include their solution in its books from early summer this year, and Spanish print on demand publisher, Bubok, has also agreed to include the BTwinBooks solution for both the publishers and indie writers they work with.

The Spanish government's official Innovation Agency has also acknowledged the company and is offering support.

Biggest challenges?

San Martin's team face two main stumbling blocks. "The first is to make publishers aware of how important it is to leap ahead towards the next era where physical and digital content are part of the same reading experience. This requires a customer centric perspective, which can be challenge the way many publishing departments are set up to tackld physical and digital content in isolated ways.

"The second is to cope with rigidity of printing systems. We aim to reduce to zero the printing cost of the ID assignment on every single book."

Ultimate ambition?

BTwinBooks' big vision is "to create a mutually supportive ecosystem, where content consumers (mainly readers), content providers (writters, multimedia content authors), content curators (book stores, bloggers), content enablers (publishers, multimedia companies, broadcasters) and miscellanrous others can work together more closely and effectively.  We want to manage such an ecosystem in a way that will integrate all members' interests."

Advice you’d give to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Following your dream should not prevent you from taking a pragmatic approach. Focus on the real market need, on the real readers' needs, rather on what the sector may expect. Avoid getting too influenced by other sectors which follow different patterns, such as music or video, which may lead you to wrong approaches and mistaken models. Oh, and if you think we can help each other - contact us!"