Feedbooks is a Web-based service that converts, catalogs and distributes ebooks in a variety of formats. Co-founder Hadrien Gardeur discusses Feedbook’s system and future services in the following Q&A.
How would you define your company? Is Feedbooks a distributor? A digitizing service? A social network? Something else?
Probably all three. We already distribute a massive number of ebooks and most of our users currently use Feedbooks to discover and download public domain or Creative Commons licensed ebooks. But we’re also working on various tools for authors and small publishers to create ebooks. We’d like to turn our readers into potential authors, and create a service where new authors can distribute their creations to a large user base.
Who is your typical user?
Do we really have a typical user? We probably used to have typical users when we mostly provided ebooks for dedicated reading devices: heavy readers. But that’s not the case anymore, now that we’ve extended the service to the iPhone, too.
Why did you start Feedbooks?
We’ve seen a lot of very exciting services for music and video these last few years and I really believe that there’s a huge potential for ebooks too, thanks to E Ink-based devices and multi-purposes platforms such as the iPhone and Android. I love reading and I’d like to create a great service where anyone can discover new books, and where authors can easily connect with readers.
Your Web site lists support for the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the iRex iLiad, the Cybook Gen3, the iPhone and other smartphones. How are you able to support all of these devices?
We use an abstract representation, somehow similar to DTBook, to store all of our books. We can generate a file on the fly based on this representation. Adding new formats is fairly easy thanks to this technology. We were the first service to distribute books in EPUB for this reason.
Which ebook format is most popular with your users? Which e-reader is most popular?
EPUB and the iPhone are probably the most popular right now thanks to our seamless integration into Stanza. The most popular dedicated device is the Kindle.
Have established book publishers used your service to create ebook editions?
No, we’re still working on those features. I expect major publishers to use XML+XSLT or Adobe InDesign rather than a dedicated service. We’re creating our publishing feature with the end-user or small publishers in mind rather than major publishers.
Do you plan to sell ebooks?
We do. I believe that free content and user-generated content in general shouldn’t be in a different environment than the rest of ebooks. It makes a lot more sense to have both in the same environment and create an optimal experience for the user.
When will sales begin?
No specific date yet, we’d rather focus on building a good service first and then add this component.
Print on demand (POD) services seem like a logical extension for Feedbooks. Is this something you’re planing?
Sure, I consider POD as another potential format for our platform. It’s a lot easier to turn an ebook into a POD book than the other way around.
The Feedbooks RSS tool appears to be targeted at Kindle users who want to receive updated news and information from RSS feeds. Do you anticipate other uses for this tool, such as a blog-to-book service?
It’s not targeted at Kindle users only. I use it every day on a Sony Reader, and it’s actually quite popular with the iPhone, too. I’ve been experimenting with blog-to-book, there’s a lot of such “blooks” (blog+book, serialized novels using blogs) out there. I created a catalog entry for Stanza to test how the readers react to these serialized novels. Such a tool could probably be very interesting for publishers, too.
Feedbooks and Lexcycle, the company behind the Stanza e-reader, have a close working relationship. How did this come together?
Lexcycle launched the iPhone version of Stanza a few days before we decided to release the first version of our new API. Marc [Prud’hommeaux, principal developer at Lexcycle] contacted me: they were looking for content that could be directly integrated into Stanza’s online catalog. We exchanged a lot of e-mails with various information, and did a lot of work together to make sure that this would work from day one. There’s still a lot of new features that I’d like to introduce and we’ll continue improving both the API and Stanza in the future, to create an optimal experience.
How are publishers and others using the Feedbooks API?
I would describe our API as read-mostly for the moment. It’s mostly useful for reading systems such as Stanza. Once we turn it into something that’s read/write, the situation will be quite different and I can imagine various innovative publishing techniques based on this.
What publishing techniques do you foresee?
Publishing should be more of a seamless experience. We already use a lot of publishing tools (blogs, social networks etc…) and we shouldn’t have such a gap between these tools and ebooks.
What are the biggest issues with digital conversion?
There’s a lot of formats, and you can expect standards such as EPUB to evolve in the near future. But I believe that the biggest issue for publishers is to find the right balance between what users are allowed to do and the ability to preserve the layout and design of a book. The holy grail for publishers is probably something as powerful as PDF, but reflowable. Ebooks allow users to customize a lot of things and preserving the design of a book shouldn’t be at the cost of this flexibility.