From novel special effects to big reader data: our 2016 BookTech finalists

From novel special effects to big reader data: our 2016 BookTech finalists

Thirty entries. Thirteen countries. Bootstrapped teams, crowdfunded projects, beta-stage platforms. Spanish interactive gamebook designers, Danish motivational reading experts, children's ebook makers from Brazil.

The diversity and ambition of the entries to our second BookTech Company of the Year Award has made me feel really rather warm inside. They reflect an unflagging confidence that every aspect of the industry remains up for creative grabs, whether that means offering book designers newly sophisticated software or providing readers with an augmented reality literary layer that sits over real-life locations across the world.

What's more, the founders behind the submissions in no way come across as naive idealists eager to destroy the evil gatekeepers or force an unsustainable revolution. These are ardent but thoughtful business people looking to enhance the existing market, and build partnerships with experienced insiders and established brands. One of the few things they share is a deep and personal passion for getting people reading more - a far from ‘disruptive’ aim.

It's a passion that our five finalists share in spades.

Publishizer, conceived in India and developed in Silicon Valley, featured as our Startup of the Week back in February - read the full profile here. It's a matchmaking service for authors and publishers - the "Kickstarter meets Tinder for publishers" -that helps authors gauge interest in book proposals, and publishers cherry-pick the projects which are right for them. When judging the entries we felt that Publishizer tackles a perennial publishing problem in a unique way, and should provide the audience at December's FutureBook conference - where the finalists will battle it out in a live pitch-off - with plenty of fuel for debate about the value of agents, and the need for hybrid models which bridge self-publishing and the traditional trade.

Kadaxis has also already been profiled. Based in New York, the Kadaxis team aims to use the latest data science to usher in the next generation of book discovery. It offers authors and publishers with metadata, marketing tools and data APIs to better understand their fast-changing audience, and provides readers with an entirely new book discovery mechanism. The intelligent gathering and analysis of big reader data is undoubtedly going to be a huge part of the future of the industry, and Kadaxis looks set to be one of its pioneers.

The other three finalists will be profiled in turn over the coming weeks, but to give you a taste...

British contenders Joosr offers time-poor readers the chance to fast-track their self development with 20-minute summaries of popular performance-boosting books. Delivered via a subscription model on a bespoke platform, the service is underpinned by such a clear behavioural need, and executed so well, that it was a no-brainer for inclusion in the shortlist.

Seattle-based Novel Effect is an app that uses voice recognition to add perfectly timed theme music and sound effects to traditional print books as you read aloud. We loved the way it blends digital and real-world reading experiences, its aim to turn the next generation into a hoarde of bibliophiles, and the way it offers an opportunity to rejuvenate classic books and backlists as well as new works.

Finally, augmented reality storytelling platform StoryTourist began as a non-profit initiative in co-operation with the City Library of Malmö, funded by the Swedish Arts Council, to develop digital tools for literacy in young adults. The platform, "a sort of Pokémon Go for stories", turns books and stories into location-based treasure hunts. Currently at an early stage of development, it exemplifies our aim for BookTech - to highlight the most exciting big ideas at the point when they most need investment, collaboration and feedback.

On a personal note, I'm delighted to see that BookTech's gender equality has improved by 100%. While last year Write-Track's Bec Evans was the only female founder on our shortlist, this year we have two - co-founder Becci Edmonson from Joosr and Johanna Forsman from StoryTourist. It may seem a small detail, but in a hugely male-dominated tech environment, it's a reassuring development.

If you want to see our five finalists pitch, not to mention field questions from our incredible panel of judges and an audience of your most forward-thinking publishing peers, do join us at #FutureBook16.