Q&A: The start-up in Aussie readers’ good books

This week we chat with Nathan Hull, founder of Bookchoice, a membership service for book lovers, and those who’d love to read more. Bookchoice provides them with a curated selection of eight books – in the form of ebooks and audiobooks – each month, carefully hand-picked by a team of industry experts, that they can download to their mobile device via the organisation’s website or app.

ISB: When and how did the idea for Bookchoice come about?

NH: Three years ago European publishing markets were flourishing with new digital models some good, some terrible. Our concept of curation was the shiny gap in the market and our method of paying the publishers and authors is completely unique – and appealing – to them. The concept was borne from an earlier Dutch-only iteration that needed a few tweaks and twists to make it viable in wider markets.

ISB: How did you fund the business in its start-up phase and early stages of operation?

NH: In its earliest stages Bookchoice was self-funded by the founders, who upon early success markers managed to bring in extra financial capital, and crucially, the support of a major Dutch publisher which brought in author endorsement and marketing support in the heart of our industry. This has also proved invaluable is creating the sense of a comfort zone for international publishers as we move into new markets.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in setting up and/or running the business, and how did you overcome it?

NH: One of the biggest challenges has been embracing the step from start-up to scale-up modes between countries. Namely, one factor has been the need to resist the temptation of taking the experience and learnings from the Dutch market and using that as the blueprint internationally. It’s not a blueprint, but a guide we can refer to – if relevant. The core principles of our service and our raison d’être can remain in place, but that then needs matching against real on-the-ground research in each market. In Australia’s case, it involved lots of travel, of course.

Coming to the major cities, living a little in the culture, experiencing what consumers experience, understanding the nuances of Australian marketing, advertising, pricing. Finding out first-hand what people read, how they read, how they purchase, how they borrow. Understanding how people prefer to pay for things. What does the general digital landscape look like and where do ebooks and audiobooks fall within that? And what Bookchoice’s place could be within that picture we were painting.

And we do that for every market. Then, armed with all that knowledge – and based on the assumption all the signs are good – we enter a market appropriately with a localized viewpoint. And then adapt as we go along if any of our research or assumptions are off-piste.

ISB: What is your “usp” that makes Bookchoice different to its competitors?

NH: We’re a curated service that cuts through the crap of all-you-can-read/listen/watch. Consumers aren’t time-rich so there’s a distinct place for a curated platform which the consumer gets to trust for its recommendation. We offer the eight books you do want to read, not the thousands you don’t.

ISB: Where do you see the business developing in the next couple of years?

NH: We’re a Dutch company of origin and moving into English-speaking markets was our next step. As part of this Australia is obviously a major focus. It’s a tech-savvy nation with good connectivity and a high penetration of smart devices – and it’s a reading nation. Beyond English, we’ve already done early tests in French, German and Spanish-speaking markets, so we’re ready when the time is right.

ISB: Finally, what was the best piece of advice you would pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

NH: Don’t get beaten to the chase. Just start. If your idea is good, someone else will already be working on a similar concept, so have the drive to make yours happen quicker. And then better.

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