Startup of the week: Kadaxis

Startup of the week: Kadaxis

Kadaxis wants to create a discovery mechanism so compelling that readers trust in books it finds for them.

The pitch

Kadaxis wants to create better connections between readers and books. It uses data science to improve book discovery across the publishing value chain, for authors (at AuthorCheckpoint with metadata and marketing tools), publishers (with metadata optimisation and data APIs) and readers (at experimental book discovery site BookDiscovery).

Who's behind it

Chris Sim is founder and c.e.o. of Kadaxis, and has worked on publishing startups for more than five years. He previously led technology at Bookish, where he co-authored a literary recommendation patent. Prior to joining the publishing world, he built and sold a popular Facebook application, and has held leadership roles in technology at companies such as IBM, PwC, Lloyds Bank and BUPA.

The company has a small team in New York, as well as global team of software engineers.

A page on BookDiscovery.

What's the gap in the market?

"Most books are now sold online, and most of those transactions start with a customer searching for a book or type of book on a retailer website," says Sim. "Retailer search engines use book metadata to help customers find books (instead of crawling web pages like Google). Creating metadata that helps sell a book online requires significant skill and resources. As most book data was created without retail SEO in mind, there's a huge opportunity to improve online visibility through metadata optimisation.

"Our metadata optimisation system targets this opportunity, by focusing on low risk, low effort, high return data improvements. We optimise BISAC categories and keywords which are easy to change or augment (compared to rewriting descriptive copy). Our technology can generate effective metadata for thousands of books.

"Alongside improving discoverability on today's engines, we're also experimenting with entirely new discovery engines, like BookDiscovery."

Successes so far?

"We spent our early days dedicated to R&D, testing different theories to see what signals we could find in book and audience data. After seeing what approaches worked, we created several products which we're continuing to test with customers. So far we have contracts with publishers (including one big five publisher), and have many authors and readers using our consumer platforms daily."

Biggest challenges?

"Our biggest challenge was probably in the early product days, trying to figure out the AuthorCheckpoint user interface," says Sim. "We had all this complex technology whirring away in the background, and needed to find a way to simplify the data so it was accessible for authors. The early versions were more engineer-oriented than author-oriented, returning tables of numbers and text. Our latest version has had much better feedback, but we're continually iterating."

A page for All the Light We Cannot See on AuthorCheckpoint.

Ultimate ambition?

"Online retailing and the self-publishing boom have given readers access to exponentially more books. But today's discovery mechanisms are inadequate and haven't evolved to match books to customers in a meaningful way. Retail search engines encourage the existing hit-driven paradigm of publishing, and work on the simple premise that if you show high selling books more often, you'll sell more books overall.

"Our ultimate ambition is to change this model, by creating a discovery mechanism so compelling that readers trust in books it finds them, over books based on popularity (bestseller lists, high review counts, celebrity authors, etc.). Hits will always exist, but by improving how readers and books are matched, authors can spend their time writing (instead of marketing), readers will read more (as books will be meaningful to them), and publishers will lower their investment risk (more copies of each title sold vs. a few titles selling many copies)."

Advice to other publisher entrepreneurs?

"Value authors, who create the product, and respect the knowledge publishers have, as they've been at it for a long time. If you're a B2B business, understand how you'll help your customers make money. Most of all, don't forget about the reader, which is ultimately who the publishing business is for."