I have just published a report that looks at the startup scene in the U.S. book publishing industry. I was trying to answer some questions. How many startups are there? How many have raised funds, and how much have they raised? How many have cashed out: merged with another company or otherwise been acquired? How many all already out of business. The full report is available for download here, as well as the Excel spreadsheet where I made my calculations.
The first way to absorb the information in the report is to review the 900 companies listed on the spreadsheet. The sheer number tells you something. An average of 90 companies a year have started up during the 10 years since the launch of the Amazon Kindle in 2007. That’s a lot of human capital directed at the reinvention of publishing.
I make a stab at classifying the main offerings of each startup based on their short mission statement. Most of the startups target self-published authors rather than existing publishing companies. By far the largest number, 260, are in the category of Tools & Services. This includes the many startups marketed to self-published authors, offering a range of services. Mostly these are what I think of as the “self-publishing basic” set of tools: we will format your book and put it on sale all over the place. Increasingly the services include the “professional set” – access to experts for help with editing, design and marketing.
Tools and Services also includes the esoteric: “Patented technology for autographing ebooks and other digital media,” “Bridging storytelling with semiotics and music” and “App to help you to organize your books.”
The second largest category is Original Content (131 companies). These startups show some imagination. Descriptions include “We create & convert great books into interactive stories,” and “An interactive reading experience where you become the character.”
The other large categories are Retail, Social, Discovery, Education, Marketing and e-Reader (software and hardware). I tracked down 19 different subscription services for ebooks, most of them now out of business.
What are the takeaways of the report? There is a lot of original thinking, but there is a troubling amount of me-too-ism. Many of the startups are all but impossible to differentiate from one another. I was constantly surprised to find yet another company proposing to aid in discovery, offer social connections or just to offer the “self-publishing basic” toolset. Authors have far too many choices from these startups. It is inevitable that many more will shut down or merge with other weak players.
On the other hand, I would rather celebrate this treasure-trove of human ingenuity. The large publishers are not setting much of an example to the industry on how to innovate, so we must look to startups to invent the future of publishing.