Startup of the week: Bibliotech

Startup of the week: Bibliotech

Created by students for students, "the Spotify of textbooks" applies the subscription model to edtech 

The pitch

The Spotify of textbooks. The Bibliotech web app provides university students with all the textbooks they need, at any time, on any device, for a small monthly fee. A "ground-breaking" search engine returns definitions, diagrams and examples with the aim to help students learn faster than ever before, and the content license helps publishers get more revenue from their higher education catalogue.

Who's the team behind it?

Bibliotech was co-founded by Dave Sherwood, Ryan White and Ellis Gecan. Sherwood (left) won a Western Australian Rhodes Scholarship and moved to Oxford to study PPE. "Whilst travelling to the UK, I reflected on the great apps that had made life much easier," he says. "I decided to build an app to make textbooks more accessible and useful, so I enlisted Ryan and Ellis."

Bibliotech was part of the Oxford University Software Incubator, and has since been seed funded by London based Synergy Energy Ltd, along with a number of angel investors. They recently won a spot in the sixth cohort of Emerge Education's EE6 accelerator programme. 

The team now includes Daniel Engelke (c.t.o.), Tao Mantaras (v.p. marketing), and lawyer Remi Kelly (v.p. content). In addition to Emerge Education, the team works closely with Board chair Mark Ransford, ex-director of Cengage Learning, Jessica Dick, investment manager at Synergy Energy Ltd and Lucie Burgess, the ex-director of Digital Libraries at the Bodleian at Oxford University.

What's the gap in the market?

"Publishers are keen to explore new business models and distribution apps that do not cannibalise existing sales," Sherwood explains. "Undergraduate students are willing to increase their annual expenditure on books to get access to the required books for their course. So we've developed a model alongside our partners Oxford University Press, Cambridge University, Taylor & Francis, Scion Publishing and the Royal Society of Chemistry that works for publishers and students. 

"Our app builds on the strengths of the digital format and compliments the experience of those who buy physical books also. Our search engine extracts definitions, diagrams and examples across a whole library of books, so students can find answers faster. The speed reader enables students to absorb the same information in half the time."

Success so far?

Bibliotech has acquired "a significant proportion" of chemistry textbooks used in the UK. They are currently looking to expand into new courses, with biomedical science, medicine, law, mathematics, physics, politics, history and economics catalogues due to go live in the coming months.

The team also claim to have collected roughly one fifth of the chemistry student email addresses in the UK, using a combination of online and in-person advertising and promotion. The plan is to replicate the same reach in all new subjects.

Biggest challenges?

"Convincing students to pay for textbooks can be a real difficulty," Sherwood admits. "Piracy and substituting a high quality textbook for low quality information from Google have become more common. Ensuring that a critical mass of students benefit from having access to all their key books at any time with powerful search, speed reading and eTextbook tools is key to the success of the model."

Ultimate ambition?

Sherwood's team are on a mission to provide affordable access to all key textbooks for undergraduates. "Conversely," Sherwood explains, "this will lead to an increase in revenue for publishers and thereby an increase in the amount of high quality content commissioned."

One piece of advice you’d give to other publishing startups/entrepreneurs?

"Finding the right business idea is the most important thing. It doesn’t have to be a big idea. Talk to your target market. If they’re not excited about your idea, then forget it and do something else. It’s easy to jump into building a product that no one wants. Take your time deciding upon that product and base it on conversations with potential customers."