Venture capitalist Brad Feld has been advising entrepreneurs since around the time Jeff Bezos started selling paperbacks out of his garage. A longtime investor, board member and author, Feld recently found his new favorite way to communicate with his growing legion of followers.
For his fourth book, published in October, Feld is utilizing an electronic-reading application called BookShout, which lets customers take notes, ask questions and create virtual book clubs. The Dallas-based startup introduced its interactive library with more than 100,000 titles earlier this year.
Readers can download Feld’s e-book, called “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City,” from BookShout’s website or mobile app for $12.99, the same price they would pay at Bezos’s Amazon.com Kindle store. They can leave notes for themselves or for the public, which Feld can read and answer as he pleases. That can then lead to an ongoing conversation within the book. John Wiley & Sons, the publisher of “Startup Communities,” is one of the more than 250 to sign licensing deals with BookShout.
Feld said he has 120 followers on BookShout (a far cry from the 117,000 or so on Twitter) and is getting a couple questions or comments a day on specific segments of the book.
“We are getting some good comment threads going that add depth to the book and add to the ideas I’m trying to get across,” Feld wrote in an e-mail.
Feld has gained admiration in recent years from aspiring entrepreneurs for his work as managing director of Foundry Group in Boulder, Colorado, which made a lucrative early investment in Zynga. He also co-founded TechStars, one of the top startup incubators that’s helped about 175 companies get off the ground.
While the nascent startup isn’t bringing in a flood of book sales, BookShout is the first “compelling” collaborative reading product, Feld said.
BookShout was founded by Jason Illian, who was previously the chief executive officer of GodTube.com. The Christian video site was acquired in 2010 by Salem Communications, which operates dozens of Christian radio stations. Illian, 37, has a team of a dozen people developing BookShout, which reaps between 15 to 50 percent of revenue from each e-book it sells, depending on the publisher agreement.
BookShout has raised $2 million from Ambassador Enterprises, an investment firm in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and will soon be bringing in another round of funding, Illian said. In 2013, he’ll also be going after authors looking to bypass traditional publishers. BookShout plans to provide data to help writers understand how a book is being received.
But the competitive landscape is daunting. Startups such as Berlin-based Readmill make similar social-reading apps. Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Apple iPad are popular reading devices with their own stores and marketing muscle behind them. And then, of course, there’s the market-leading Kindle, which has a feature called public notes, introduced last year to little fanfare.
BookShout isn’t just waging a literary war on Amazon. Illian has chosen to host BookShout on data services from Rackspace instead of on Amazon. Shakespearean vengeance.