Andrew Kidd’s new e-book subscription service featuring recommendations from authors such as Julian Barnes, Ali Smith and John le Carre, has launched to the public, with a price point of £1.99 a week.
The app, called Alexi, has been created by Folio Prize founder and former Aitken Alexander m.d Kidd and Ayesha Karim, also formerly of Aitken Alexander. Kidd says it marks itself out from other subscription services by "cutting through the algorithm-driven recommendations of the internet" and offering recommendations from "prominent" writers, including John Banville, A.S. Byatt, Peter Carey, Bret Easton Ellis, Sarah Hall, Kamila Shamsie and Colm Tóibín.
Publishers which have joined the subscription service for the launch include Bloomsbury, Pan Macmillan, Europa, Head of Zeus and HarperCollins, with “dozens of additional publishers” set to come on board over the coming months as the service integrates with Faber Factory and Ingram CoreSource Plus, Kidd said. Penguin Random House and Hachette are yet to enlist any of their titles in e-book subscription services.
Members are charged either £1.99 a week or £79 a year to join Alexi. The business model works by offering members free previews of books. Every time a member reads a book beyond the free preview limit it triggers a payment to the publisher equivalent to an e-book sale. The author who recommended the book will also receive a small payment from the company every time a book is read, along with other incentives to take part.
The app will select approximately 400 books to recommend to members over the course of a year.
Kidd told The Bookseller: "Alexi is the exact opposite of all-you-can-eat subscription services. Readers suffer from a surfeit, not a lack, of choice. Alexi shuts out all the noise and offers our members a carefully considered selection of only the best. Alexi is very outward facing and actively responsive to what’s happening in the world. Books can be great means of escape, but we are more interested in how they work as means of engagement – not least with the world going the way it is right now."
The service also hopes to give backlist sales a boost.
"By restoring human expertise to the recommendation process, Alexi leads readers to hidden gems they mightn’t otherwise hear about," Kidd said. "Recent backlist publishing phenomena such as Stoner by John Williams and Tony and Susan (aka "Nocturnal Animals") by Austin Wright have reflected an appetite for books that move beyond the obvious. Alexi’s handpicked mix of novels, short stories, history, politics, poetry and reportage offers an exciting new way to find them."
He added: "Essentially what Alexi is about is creating an ecosystem in which good books, and especially backlist, can flourish, and encouraging our members to read beyond the books that everyone else is reading."
Karim was most recently head of digital and contracts at Aitken Alexander.
Karim said: "In launching Alexi, we are excited to join a growing movement that is intent on offering people a way out of the rabbit-hole of algorithms and reductive five-star ratings. We also believe good books are the most effective antidote to the distortions of the echo chamber, and we have combined the best of analogue and digital to create a new way of bringing them to people."
A beta version of the app was launched last year and included the recommendations but not the books themselves. Last autumn the Alexi team raised additional funding via Crowdcube to build a proprietary e-reader within the new version of the app.
Alexi will launch in North America in mid-2017. The app is currently optimised for Apple iPhone and iPad, with an Android version coming in 2017.