SharedBook is the underlying technology provider for a number of great new content offerings. I've stumbled across them several times in the past year when I've researched services like Blog2Print and eGuidebook. With all the exciting new initiatives they've been involved with I figured I could learn even more by interviewing one of their executives. Caroline Vanderlip, CEO, graciously agreed to answer my questions -- here's what she had to say:
JW: SharedBook seems to be the engine behind many of the newer e-content services I've come across recently. What's the overall vision for SharedBook and the products you've already released?
CV: We believe SharedBook offers a disruptive enabling technology that has the potential to expand the way people think about publishing in the 21st century. Using our platform, any business or consumer can publish personalized print media on demand.
SharedBook works with traditional publishers, web sites and other types of companies to maximize the long tail potential of existing materials. For example, traditional publishers can use the platform to allow readers to add personalized elements (Random House) and to publish customized anthologies. Web sites (Allrecipes.com, ProfessionalTravelGuide.com) and other types of companies (Regent Seven Seas Cruises) can re-purpose their existing content to suit the individual interests of their customers.
JW: Your website refers to your "reverse publishing platform." What exactly does that phrase mean for SharedBook and your product line?
CV: I’m glad you asked. We spent a lot of time in the last year working to raise awareness for the concept of "reverse publishing," which simply means publishing online content in print format, or Web to print publishing.
There is a tremendous amount of content available online today, much of which now appears on the Web first. In fact, I recently read that IDC estimated that in 2006 alone, the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated was approximately 3 million times the information in all books ever written.
Since launching our first data integration project with Legacy.com, the Legacy Commemorative Guest Book, in November 2006, we have seen a growing interest, from businesses and consumers, in publishing personally-relevant Web content across a variety of categories. SharedBook currently offers reverse publishing solutions in the book publishing, food, memorial, sports and travel industries, among others.
SharedBook’s Reverse Publishing Platform automates the book making process, enabling consumers to produce a book dynamically with just a few clicks. Users can choose to preview and purchase a book immediately, or personalize it further by adding their own text and photographs.
SharedBook’s application is also fully collaborative, enabling users to invite family and friends into their private and secure book making space to contribute their own content. Anyone invited into the space can also publish a book if they like.
SharedBook also provides an extensive range of personalization options. For example, users control which content flows into their books, the placement of text and photos, and the inclusion of comments, notes and annotations.
JW: What are one or two of the most important lessons you've learned from your customer base after releasing some of these products?
CV: We really have two customer bases: the partners that integrate with us and offer the product under their brands and the buyers of the product. From our partners, we've learned to keep the product offering and the solution simple. Make the product offering as easy to understand as possible and then market its uniqueness frequently enough so people begin to understand that they can create something here never before imagined. From our buyers, we learn which content and features are most appealing, some of the product features that they would like to have added in the future, and how satisfied they are with the final product.
SharedBook conducts customer satisfaction surveys every month and while we have an increasingly high level of satisfaction, we know that we need to evolve as the market for our product and capabilities becomes more mainstream.
JW: What's the goal of the SharedBook Open API and can you tell us about any interesting third-party applications that have been developed using it?
CV: SharedBook’s API is available to enable any third party, business or consumer, to integrate data into SharedBook’s platform for on-demand output.
Most recently, Steve Murch of BigOven.com, a social network about food, used SharedBook’s API to develop the BigOven Cookbook. Using one of the wrappers that are available to developers, Steve was able to produce working results within a few hours and had a market-ready solution in less than eight weeks. BigOven.com is the first company to offer multiple ways to connect to SharedBook. Users of the social network about food can create cookbooks from the Web site or from BigOven’s award-winning desktop recipe software.
SharedBook’s API also formed the basis for Create-A-Cookbook from Allrecipes.com, which launched in November. The application enables cooks to automatically publish collections of their favorite online and personal recipes in professionally-printed book format. Users can choose to purchase the cookbook once a preview of the finished book product is created, or to personalize it further by adding notes to the recipes, and the stories and photographs that make the foods special.
I am not sure if you are aware of this, but the Blog2Print blog printing widget was also built using SharedBook’s API. Some of our own developers created the widget shortly after we introduced the API to demonstrate how easily an application could be created.
There are several additional third party examples in development now that we expect to announce by the end of Q2.
JW: How do you see your business and the products you're developing evolving in the coming years? Are there any noteworthy projects you're working on that we should keep an eye out for down the road?
CV: This is an exciting time for SharedBook. Our business has grown significantly in the last 18 months. We added partners in eight different content categories in 2007, and expect to announce as many partnerships in 2008 if not more.
We're currently working on projects that will introduce reverse publishing to several new categories including gardening and magazine publishing.
We envision a time in the not so distant future when consumers will be able to publish any of the online content they need, regardless of the topic, in the format they choose.
The custom cookbook publishing solutions for Allrecipes.com and BigOven.com and the Pocket Guidebook for ProfessionalTravelGuide.com illustrate how it's already possible to create your own book for a particular topic today.
We believe this is only the beginning of a new era in publishing.