Bubblin Superbooks

An online café for books.
Batch: 2018 Winter
Status: Unsuccessful

Bubblin Superbooks

An online café for books.
Batch: 2018 Winter
Status: Unsuccessful

Company

We're building a website where people love to come to read books. And share books with friends freely. Readers can connect with each other, offer insights, discuss and be a part of a well-read, calm and level-headed community.

Founders

We built an evening school for guitar enthusiasts in New Delhi. It was fun place for people to hang out after school or office, take a lesson or two on playing guitar. Over 800 students learned to play guitar at our academy during a period of four years. Changing laws and policy led us to eventually shut it down before moving to the United States.

Progress

We have launched a couple of times. The original beta went live in December of 2017 and then we re-launched twice later on. Over 150k readers engaged on site last month of which about 3% completed reading at least one book per week.

At this point our core metrics look like so:
1. Total number of hearts/likes on books: 1077
2. Total number of pages turned (flip-count): 2235673
3. Total time spent on all books: 3112 hours
4. Total number of writers signed up for trial: 866
5. Total number of books created: 665

Our Alexa ranking is hovering near 157K [1].
[1] https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/bubblin.io

arvin has been full-time on it for over two and half years. Sonica has joined full-time since July of 2018.

We get between 5,000-10,000 uniques per week of which about 1% sticks. 30% of that traffic is young teenagers or kids on their iPads—which is a particularly valuable group.

7% of our readers come from India, 18% from Europe and 62% are from the US. On the supply side we have about 800 writers signed up, of which 2% are actively working on a book. We also have some famous writers like Michael J. Sullivan on-board

We're growing at 41.7% growth rate MoM and expect to cross half a million unique readers by end of December this year.

Yes, we applied with the same idea for YC Summer 2018. We have made a considerable progress on finding product-market fit since. The most radical change has been our adoption of a social strategy around books.

Readers want to talk about what they have read with their friends. They often share insights, annotations or recommend the title itself to their friends. We introduced a few simple features to let them do that on major social networks and it resulted in an N! magnification in referrals and word of mouth.

We are now calling ourselves 'a social book reader for web'! :-)

Idea

Why this idea?—Marvin was using an early version of Bubblin for his own books. Freedom of digital books from proprietary formats and closed hardware is the main reason why we are at it.

Domain expertise?—Marvin is the creator of the Superbook Standard Format (SSF) and wrote its specification from scratch.

How do you know people need this?—Metrics. Flipcount and total_time_spent per book are a strong indicator of the need. Flipcount is the number of times a reader turns a page over. It is a also a great indicator of how well a book is performing.

Writers use flipcount to track success of their book.

What's new—We liberate digital books from hardware. The idea is to have books come alive on web without using proprietary formats or vendor lock-ins. A reader need not own a piece of hardware (like Kindle) to enjoy reading digital books. Meaning freedom, flexibility and share-ability etc for books.

What substitutes exist?—Developers use books published on web more than anything else. The mass market reads on the dead tree while the progressive ones are on Kindle that is now over a decade old. Kids are on the iPad, and that's where we are putting all our focus on.

We have some very big players in our space like The Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins etcetera. If we were to start selling books tomorrow then the Kindle Cloud Reader would be our closest comparison. In general we're the same old idea slapped with a slick UI and distribution built in.

We're super careful about pitching against Kindle but our readers swear by the experience we bring to the table. A great community will help us differentiate in the long run. We don’t fear our competition too much because we are relying on ideals of free and open source software that have stood the test of time.

SEO and social urges are primary drivers of our traffic. One of the advantages of hosting a full book on site is that we can extract SEO juice from the “inner pages” of the book. This capability is not available to any other publisher because they'd have to link to a file outside of web.

Second, social urges. Readers love talking about the book that they have read or a passage that they liked. We tap into these individual urges to reach further into their network of friends. Organic search and social drive 70% of our reader traffic.

Third is meet-ups and local writing groups. We work with writers and help them publish using modern tools and get the word out. In the process we increase our outreach with each new book alongside a campaign undertaken by the writer.

Others

We considered building a startup of book writing tools earlier. Some of its technology and tools are in use on the supply side of Bubblin. In many ways without these tools Bubblin might not have come into existence at all.

The site is still live at: https://bookiza.io

Physical books are not files. Files belong to bureaucracy. Books belong to children (or the child within us). Books are about creativity, about counter-culture and overthrowing rotten ideals of our society. Files are about encoding those rotten ideals and forcing them on us.

So why should an e-book book be a file at all?

Food for thought: Do files masquerading as e-book pass the Occam's Razor? Is the reader of the future expected to understand words like file, format, device, disk, compatibility or OS?

Curious

We loved attending the YC Startup School. A rigorous program with a great peer group to live with locally at one place sounds a lot more exciting.

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