Startup of the week: Novellic

Startup of the week: Novellic

Novellic is an app for which the book’s content trumps its format.


The pitch

Novellic is an app for book clubs with a focus on genres and book themes - on one hand we help readers make new friends that share their reading tastes, and then through these book clubs and a personalised curated book store we help promote the discovery of great new books to read.

Who's behind it

Candide Kirk and co-founder Mahmoud Khasawneh launched a video game studio, Quirkat, in 2004 and for 10 years had successful releases, published by the likes of Sony PlayStation, as well as self-published games. Kirk's experience is in game design and production, where her role was to own the gamer’s experience and to oversee the development of the game across the art, tech, design and audio teams. Having started in video game development so early the company witnessed and adapted to the games industry’s shift from boxed retail to digital distribution, as well as the advent of App Stores and indie and self publishing. The parallels with the book industry and the challenges it faces today made the pair realise there was an opportunity to apply a lot of lessons learnt from games to books.

What's the gap in the market?

"From a user perspective, Novellic is there to help people discover and join book clubs," says Kirk. "Books have always been great social connectors and whether you’ve just moved to a new city or have friends who don’t share your particular love for epic fantasy, joining a reading group is a great way to make new friends and discover good books to read. For book club members and admins Novellic provides all the tools to manage and communicate with the group, including a poll system to vote on what to read next, an offline meetup organiser to plan the club meets and a discussion area to keep in touch and discuss the books being read.

   

"From an industry perspective we are shifting how we think about digital book retail by placing the book in a social context. A Novellic book page shows who else has favourited a title and what clubs have included it in their reading lists. We also give users a space to tag books; readers tend to be more descriptive about their favourite reads and tags such as #mademecry or #femaleprotagonist are often more helpful than standard BIC codes for discovery. By focusing on sub-genres (e.g. true crime or space opera) we’re cutting out the hundreds of thousands of listings commonly found on retailers’ websites and, based on their reading habits, our users instead get a personalised curated visual book store with only a handful of recommended titles which get refreshed on every visit.

"For Novellic the book’s content trumps its format. We’ve launched with the ability to purchase e-books from within the app but are working on adding support for physical book ordering with next day delivery as well."

Success so far?

Novellic was a finalist for the Digital Innovation Challenge at the 2015 London Book Fair.

It also recently launched in beta on the UK App Store and to celebrate held a book swap party as part of the London Book and Screen Week. Kirk says it "had a fantastic turnout – so much so that we’re now planning a regular calendar of bookish events to complement the online nature of the app over the coming few months".

Biggest challenges?

"As complete outsiders to the book industry the biggest challenge was understanding the publishing landscape and doing away with ideas that would face high resistance from book publishers," says Kirk. "For example, we initially wanted book club members to be able to borrow friends’ books for a micro-transaction fee. It took us a while to understand why that wasn’t possible under existing contracts."

Ultimate ambition?

"We’re hoping that Novellic will be the go-to resource for small book clubs and reading groups around the world, and to become a natural digital extension of the offline world of book clubs."

Advice you’d give to other publishing startups/entrepreneurs?

"Look outside of publishing for inspiration – media is converging both at the points of creation as well as consumption and there are a lot of successes and models that can be applied to books. Also, for the newcomers to publishing like us, be patient. As techies we were used to rapid development cycles which we’ve had to adapt when dealing with the larger publishers and industry players."