Netherlands-based mobile self-publishing platform Sweek was a finalist in our 2017 BookTech Company of the Year last December. Now co-founder and business development manager Veronika Kartovenko explains the opportunities and challenges the Sweek team has faced in the past five months.
The Sweek team were delighted to be a finalist at the FutureBook 2017 BookTech pitch-off. It puts innovative startups in the spotlight, and proved a great opportunity for us to showcase our product and get valuable input. We had some great talks during and after the event with other participants and attendees - as well as future partners. Feedback from the judges confirmed that we are on the right track in terms of our growth and traction, and gave us further ideas for how to position and pitch Sweek.
We've seen quite a few developments since last December. Sweek is still rapidly growing, well on target to reach 1 million registered users by September 2018. Our self-publishing network, which already covered the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and the UK, will soon include India, Brazil, USA and Australia. This will result in a fully global publishing opportunity for all our Sweekers, including attractive pricing, local PoD, relevant sales channels and selling via social media and website widgets. We are also well underway with our very first 'Sweek Original', a great book which we will publish both on Sweek and with a traditional publisher. More info to follow in the upcoming months.
One of our main challenges right now is how to connect Sweek with the existing publishing world, as at this stage of our company we do not want to be a standalone solution. The questions we're asking ourselves include how Sweek can offer added value to publishers, how we can create long lasting partnerships, and how we can offer our Sweek writers and readers attractive functionalities.
One answer we've tested is organising writing competitions in close co-operation with publishers to scout talent. This experiment has worked really well. Right from the start of the contest, writers start uploading chapters - and readers start reading, liking, sharing, commenting and following writers. We see even writers giving each other extensive feedback by commenting on stories, creating an engaged community. Most publishers let the Sweek community choose at least half of the finalists.
So far, every contest led to the winner receiving a publishing contract, and often the publisher shows interest in other finalists as well. Some examples of publishers we’ve run contests with include Ravensburger, Arena Verlag, Piper (Germany), Overamstel, Crime Compagnie (Netherlands), imprints of Penguin Random House (Latam) and Gramedia (Indonesia). It is fascinating to see how well those partnerships work out: unorthodox talent is being spotted and given a chance. Our goal is to become global market leader in writing contests.
Winners of the writing contest with Overamstel Uitgevers
Another avenue we're exploring is the potential of Sweek acting as an agency, offering the talent on our platform on an exclusive basis to contracted publishers. We're also trialling native advertising, running a pilot around a book launch with Luitingh-Sijthoff, a well respected Dutch publisher. There is more to come - like industry reports on mobile reading behavior, big data for publishers and even premium content, which will be a massive opportunity for those publishers who find it hard to reach the smartphone generation. So the challenge will be to develop these concepts further and make them successful.
But we also know we have to keep our core offering solid. We're committed to providing all our Sweekers with a great way to publish their works in both print and e-book via Sweek Publishing. We have to ensure they earn attractive margins selling their books via social media, the Sweek webshop and relevant existing sales channels, or they will look elsewhere.
Another challenge we face is keeping the community active. As our growth rate is much higher than expected, it is crucial to keep the community engaged. By organizing flash fiction competitions in eight different languages each month, we're keeping interactions high. Our next step in this area is to roll out some ‘gamification in writing and reading’ features too.
Finally, we recently started our series A funding round and had our first very promising talks.
In terms of other publishing innovators that inspire us, it’s very interesting to observe how players such as China Literature and Wattpad are trying out different business models and striking the right note with the younger smartphone generation. We think there will be more and more interesting revenue models appearing in the upcoming years. A very successful introduction of Kobo Plus in the Netherlands, for instance, shows that premium models – among many others – could work. And of course increasing use of big data tools and AI in different industries, including publishing, is something we are closely monitoring.
In conclusion, we've come a long way from BookTech... and we hope this is just the start.