I ordered my first Kindle e-book reader the week it became available. I switched to Kindle on iPad only to reduce the number of devices I traveled with. However, I continue to follow developments in e-book readers as part of my interest in educational technology and there is much innovation in the space.
Yesterday Fast Company had an interesting story on a new e-book reader from Readmill. The Fast Company story highlights a feature of Readmill which allows you to share your comments and highlights of a book with other readers (and perhaps the author) to enrich the reader's understanding through dialogue, thereby creating a social community for the book and the readers.
That's a nice idea but what really caught my attention were three key points which exemplify excellent entrepreneurship:
- Rather than taking the Amazon approach of using e-book readers to sell books, Readmill started with the more fundamental question of how can an e-book reader enhance the reading experience for the reader. Starting with the question framed correctly is a key to entrepreneurship that finds large market opportunities.
- Readmill is a free app for iPad and iPhone and soon will be available on Android. The company plans to generate revenue by selling data on how the books are read to publishers using the commentary data captured in the social community. I have many times advocated for a business model where the product is free and revenue is derived from re-selling usage data to interested companies. Readmill is one of the first companies that I know of to use this model.
- Readmill describes their product as creating a social community, which is the rage today and probably an easy way to explain the product to investors. However, I see Readmill at the forefront of a more important trend--curation of information. As I have posted many times, with the vast amounts of information produced on the web, the challenge is in curating that information for an individual user. Suppose we have a complex book like a book by Michael Porter, FA Hayek or Descartes. Where would you go today for help to better understand it. Wikipedia, Goodreads and other traditional sources do not provide in depth information for better understanding. In 2-3 years I think everybody might go to Readmill first, to search the "community" feed on the book to find curated information--specific to the need, expert commentary and easily found. Imagine the benefit of reading Michael Porter or the leading authority on Descartes interpretation of a highlighted passage in a book. In my opinion that is the real potential of Readmill. (Previous posts on curation of information are here and here.)
I do not know if Readmill will be a commercial success. For example, Inkling and Oxford University Press have really good e-book readers with a strong feature set. However, I think that if Readmill can continue to enhance the quality of the curation of the reader commentary to become the definite source on books, then I think that they have the potential for a sustainable differential advantage in the e-book reader space.