Business Profile: Matteo Berlucchi

Business Profile: Matteo Berlucchi

If you have any interest in the digital sphere, you will have gathered that Matteo Berlucchi is not a fan of Digital Rights Management for e-books. The c.e.o. of the literary social networking site Anobii has been on a crusade of late, banging the anti-DRM drum at industry events such as Digital Book World.

"We are trying to push that agenda quite aggressively," Berlucchi admits. "We are talking to publishers in general, not just our partners, about DRM-free—what would it mean, how you would do it, what are the impacts, what are the risks?"

Interestingly, he stresses is that there is no degree of certainty, and that publishers and retailers must experiment. "If a publisher wants to go DRM-free they don't have to do it in one go. You can do it selectively and see, and that's why data and analytics are so key: you can truly measure the impact of selling and DRM."

Publisher backing

You may have heard about Anobii—the name comes from Anobium Punctatum, the Latin name for a type of bookworm—but it is likely you have not used it. The site has around 600,000 users worldwide, the bulk of which are in Asia and Italy, with UK user numbers still in the nascent stages. The site was founded in 2006 by Hong Kong developer Greg Sung. He had been reading a book and wanted to discuss it with others, but none of his friends were reading it and he could find no discussion forums online. So he created a virtual bookshelf site, in which users could rate books they read and discuss book topics.

The site flourished among a niche group with very little marketing. Long-time digitalist Berlucchi and his investors—HMV, Random House, Penguin and HarperCollins—bought the company in 2010.

Since acquisition, there has been a whirlwind of development. The strategy is to make Anobii an API (application programming interface), a software hub to communicate and be accessed across a variety of platforms including, crucially, Facebook. The 25-strong team HQ in London has been improving the front-end user experience, creating reading and scanner apps for iOS and Android devices, and beefing up the massive amount of data required for the API. Anobii is adding a huge amount of e-books for sale, and is now working with about 20 publishers and an e-book aggregator. At the beginning of the year there were about 50,000 paid for e-books available for download; by Easter Berlucchi reckons there will be between 600,000–700,000. Sung is still involved with the company, and his team in Hong Kong is developing the Facebook integration.

"Our main goal is discovery," Berlucchi says. "I think there is opportunity for that serendipitous discovery of other books through social media, that you simply can't get from Amazon search logarithms."

Serial entrepreneur

Berlucchi is the kind of person the trade needs: a forty-something digital entrepreneur from outside the industry who is attracted by the possibilities that e-books offer. Italian-born and educated at the University of Padua and Imperial College London, his career stretches back to 1995 when he founded netEstate, Europe's first online property system. He has been involved in a number of start-ups including co-founding software company Skinkers and Livestation, which streams news video online and with apps.

He says that he has found similarities in the industries he has worked in, but books are different in one way: the speed of which the market is moving. "It's because of Amazon," he explains. "You have one enormous incumbent who is so big it is essentially skewing all the dynamics. Even in music, Apple was never so aggressive; they had a large market share, but a less aggressive stance."

Anobii Facts
700,000 E-books available for download (Apr 2012)
50,000 Paid-for e-books available for download from Anobii (Jan 2012)