Posted by Justine Solomons on November 14, 2018, in Event reports, News
Marylebone’s Home House played host to Byte The Book’s November pitching event, which brought together five industry professionals to muse, Dragon’s Den-style, over four fledgling start-ups. The panel was chaired by Diane Banks of Northbank Talent Management and comprised entrepreneur Louise Rice, financier Will Chappel, Trillium’s Jonathan Nowell and Emily Miles from event sponsor Harbottle & Lewis.
Our very friendly and mighty fine looking "Dragons" from left to right: Emily Miles, Louise Rice, Diane Banks (Chair), Will Chappel and Jonathan Nowell
First under the spotlight was Kate Oliver from Sydekix, an innovative start-up founded to kill two publishing birds with one stone. “These days, an increasing number of parents are reliant on childcare, which is not only incredibly expensive, but often incompatible with nine-to-five working hours”. This, Kate pointed out, can cause stress, burnout, sickness and, especially for women, premature career abandonment. At the same time, for young graduates aspiring to work in publishing, London can be prohibitively expensive, student debts are crippling and work experience can be impossible to come by unless you’re lucky enough to have connections.
First up to pitch Kate Oliver of SYDEKIX
Sydekix solves these dual problems with a single solution — the company connects aspiring graduates with established publishing professionals and, using a smart, simple platform, provides the former with work experience and lodging, and the latter with free childcare. The idea was well received by the panel, who recognised its inherent scaleability as well as Kate’s laudable social aspirations. Louise brought up the issue of liability, questioning how Sydekix could guarantee the quality of its childcare; however, Kate stressed that rigorous CRB checks would of course be carried out, and a go-between recruitment consultancy model might well be utilised, as in the au pair system. Jonathan quizzed Kate about barriers to entry — what would stop others mimicking the idea? — and in response, she cited prime-mover advantage. “We are the first and will do it the best. I know the industry, I’ve seen what happens to people who can’t afford to be here, and nobody cares about this more than I do”.
Emmanuel Kolade pitching his newly launched app Shulph
Next up was Emmanuel Kolade, whose company Shulph enables readers to synchronise their physical and digital bookshelves. Keen to free his users from format tyranny, Emmanuel foresees a marketplace where readers invest directly in the content itself, and on purchasing a book receive it in both its virtual and physical forms. This, he argues, would massively decrease the number of books being abandoned halfway through because, say, the print copy proves too much of a chore to carry around, or the blue-light glare from the eBook renders bedtime reading impractical. “The future we’re designing,” he concluded, “is one where people will be able to move in, out and around their books”. Louise wondered, as an ex-publisher, how Emmanuel was pricing Shulph, given that, in theory at least, it could halve publisher revenues. “We’ve had two long, hard years of meetings with publishers,” he admitted, “and pricing has been a very hairy conversation so far. Publishers have agreed to try out different pricing models for us, but at this early stage, we’re not too worried about revenue. Our goal for now is to identify our target audience, and once we’ve done that, aggressively chase funding”.
Byte The Book member Ryan Morison pitching Erudition Direct
The penultimate pitcher was Ryan Morrison, whose start-up Erudition Direct is an eBook distribution platform that aims to change the way publishers reach customers and sell eBooks, thereby decreasing reliance on major retailers. In short, Erudition enables publishers to go direct to market and, through initiatives such as subscription models and discounted eBook clubs, build ongoing relationships with their readers. “Our secret sauce,” explained Ryan, “is the cost and ease with which we can do this, and the fact that we’re making it accessible to publishers of all sizes”. Will suggested that Erudition’s book clubs would need to include some form of social media element to keep readers engaged (otherwise, he said, companies tend to lose users very easily), while Jonathan asked Ryan whether he had considered asking publishers to “bundle together” for book clubs, since very few readers are loyal to a single brand. “That’s phase two,” replied Ryan. “Getting tied up in those contractual arrangements now, when we’re still trying to get the business off the ground, would be counter-productive … but it is part of the long-term plan, and the platform is designed to support it”.
Lots of great networking throughout the night, here's Hermione Ireland (currently Marketing Director at Little Brown, Hachette) with some of the Endeavour Media Team
Finally, Olga Egorsheva closed the floor with a presentation on her company, Lobster, which enables global curation of user-generated content. “Stock photography,” she began, “is over. So why shouldn’t you be able to use uploads from social media in your work? Three billion photos and videos are created every day; they’re incredibly fresh and diverse, and yet there’s currently no way to source them or obtain the copyright”. The process is simple — content creators sign up with their social media logins, machine-learning algorithms comb through their data, and then Lobster users employ the company’s sophisticated search filters (keyword, mood, style, colour palette and more) to source the media they require. Creators make a 75% commission on chosen pictures, and users benefit from royalty-free content. What’s more, Lobster’s AI technology is able to recognise high aesthetic quality, thus vastly minimising curation and editorial costs, and the company has even pioneered methods for increasing the resolution of individual images. The project has attracted considerable media attention and £1.5million has already been raised from NGOs and crowd-funding.
Some of the team representing our sponsors Harbottle & Lewis, from left to right: Charlotte Doherty, Sharon D’Silva, Teresa Walker, Zoey Forbes and Sam Purkiss
All in all, the panel were extremely impressed with Olga’s pitch, and questions focussed mainly on the issues of rights and legality. What if a photograph contains a copyrighted image, asked Jonathan, or a protected trademark? “Our AI recognises copyrighted material and trademarks,” explained Olga, “so the original photographer will be asked to obtain permission, and if they are unable to do so, the picture will be categorised accordingly”.
Olga Egorsheva pitches Lobster
Will brought up the issue of social media platforms and their ownership of pictures. “Do Facebook and Instagram effectively own the images we post?” he pondered. “And if so, couldn’t that be problematic for Lobster?”. Again, Olga was ready with the answer. “Contrary to common notions,” she said, “you own the copyright to your photos on Instagram and Facebook. And we’ve had great meetings with both those platforms — there’s no conflict for them, because the more pictures users post, the more their business benefits. It’s a win-win”.
Another great night at the beautiful Home House, well done everyone!
Looking back on the presentations, several of the panellists expressed a preference for Olga’s curation start-up; however, positive noises were made about all four pitches. And in a comment that summed up the defiant mood of the evening, Emily praised Emmanuel Kolade for his ambition, via Shulph, to take on the established might of a certain publishing monopoly. “Anything which breaks the mould — and challenges the Amazon stronghold on the publishing industry — is worth considering in my book.”
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