Here’s an email interview with James Crawshaw, one of the founders of bibliotastic, a free ebooks platform based in the UK, which occupies a space somewhere between a straight ebooks platform (like Smashwords or Feedbooks) and a peer review/”incubator” site for new writers (like YouWriteOn – which I have reviewed here).
recently submitted my novel to the site and am happy to report that it was a
straightforward process – bibliotastic will also convert your Word or PDF file to
ebook format and even help you with a front cover. I also like the site’s emphasis on reviewing (see questions 5 and 6
below). From a reader’s perspective,
bibliotastic does not offer as wide a range of books as some other sites, but I have
already found some material which I enjoyed (see this post) – so it is
certainly worth a look (and the focus on reviewing/feedback is helpful for
1. What made you and your colleagues start bibliotastic?
became interested in ebooks as the popularity of the Kindle took off in 2010. I
thought there was a fantastic opportunity for people to bypass the traditional
book publishing barriers and reach an audience. And I wanted to be part of the
2. Can you give some idea of the number of books
you host and the number of visitors you get to the site?
are about 350 books on bibliotastic. It is really just a drop in the ocean.
Unfortunately we never developed an automated process for publishing the books
unlike some other sites. So it is quite a manual process. On the flip side that
means we only tend to upload books that seem interesting or worthwhile. We turn
away a lot of dross.
traffic peaked at around 23,000 unique visitors per month in 2011. Since then
usage has slipped a bit as we have focused on other activities outside
bibliotastic (painting, decorating, cutting the grass). In total the site has
had about 260,000 unique visitors and 1.3 million page views since launch.
What quality checks do books go through before you will agree to host them?
shy away from erotica; it is a popular category but needs a dedicated website I
think. We don't publish advertorials. We try to avoid delusional ramblings of
which there are many writers in cyberspace. We seek out good fiction but also
publish some non-fiction if it looks interesting.
terms of quality checks we are not too strict about bad grammar and spelling
but we do encourage authors for whom English is not their first language to get
their work edited.
4. A problem with some other free user-generated
ebook platforms is the relative lack of reviews - for example, on Obooko there
is only a ratings system (you can't actually post a review, as such) and on
Feedbooks there doesn't seem to be much of a "reviewing
culture". How have you gone about
encouraging users to provide feedback that will be useful to both authors and
ran several competitions to encourage user reviews. We gave away Kindles as
prizes. This generated some excellent book reviews by users. But we ran out of
5. Another self-published author (who's
published a lot more than me) reckons that for every 1000 downloads, you don't
generally get more than 1 review. Do you
think the chances of getting a review from users of Bibliotastic are better
than that - or about the same?
are around 450 user reviews on the site so slightly more than 1 per book on
average. Of course many books get no comments and those that do get comments
tend to attract more comments. We have had around 87,000 book downloads. So
that makes 1 review every 193 downloads.
6. Unusually for an ebooks platform, you also
have your own team of reviewers. It
strikes me that their task is not an easy one - because if the reviewers are
too harsh, it will tend to discourage authors, but if they are not at least
reasonably objective about it, the site will lose the confidence of
readers. How have your reviewers tried
to strike the right balance?
our in-house reviewers are too soft and I have to toughen up the ratings to
give the audience a better steer. But some of them are quite tough too and I
have had to moderate their reviews so as not to offend the authors. I usually
show the in-house review to the author first as a courtesy. Normally they are
very magnanimous about the criticism. On one occasion though one of the authors
got fed up with our negative in house reviews and asked to remove their books
from our site.
7. As well as the focus on generating reviews,
are there any other advantages of Bibliotastic that you would like to highlight
(as compared with other ebook platforms)?
we have nice blue borders down either side of the website. And we don't take
ourselves too seriously.
8. What has surprised you most about the whole
process of setting up Bibliotastic and watching it develop?
books from writers all over the world on myriad subjects has been the greatest
surprise. It is mostly fiction and of course a lot of it is not good but there
are some excellent authors out there that sadly have not been lucky enough to
get published professionally or hit the jackpot through self publishing yet.
9. Are you planning any changes to the site in future?
might try a different colour for the borders.
10. How do you see the future of ebooks?
ebook is definitely here to stay. But there is still room for printed books. At
least until we run out of trees. I still see a lot of e-ink Kindles on the
train but as a gadget it has been left in the shadow of tablets. And when I see
people using tablets it tends to be more for website browsing, games and video
rather than book reading. Ditto for smartphones. I think people would read a
lot more on these devices if they weren't so easily distracted by email and
social media. We have become conditioned to snack media and have less and less
attention span. But I digress ... what was the question again?
11. When can we expect the Bibliotastic IPO and
how rich do you expect to become from the no doubt highly lucrative business of
making ebooks available for free? ;-)
fast in the foot steps of Twitter we have been reviewing strategic options with
our advisors Mega Bank and Croesus Capital. We can't possibly comment on
rumours of a potential takeover by that company that sounds like a South
American river or any potential share offerings on the stock market. All we can
say is that our secret recipe for converting free ebooks into a highly
profitable cash flow stream is patent pending.
NOTE: Although I didn’t really intend
this as a serious question (and James has gamely played along with that), it’s
worth noting that bibliotastic has already succeeded as an “incubator” site for
at least one writer, Letitia Coyne, who now has a publishing contract. In view of that, you would have thought that
sites like this might provide an interesting model for commercial publishers –
for reasons which I mused about a while back, in this post.
However, sadly, I’m not aware of any serious moves in that direction by the publishing establishment. I suppose one could point to Authonomy (set up by Harper Collins) and Orion (which has links with YouWriteOn). But both those initiatives strike me as little more than dabbling by publishers - as opposed to genuine experimentation with a new business model which takes advantage of the near zero distribution cost of ebooks in order to find and develop new writers. So for now, it looks like it is up to sites like bibliotastic to make the running.
My thanks to James for taking the time to answer all my questions.
Posted by Paul Samael. Posted In : Self-publishing