March 14, 2018

Could algorithms and data help publishers find the next Harry Potter?

By Jack Rear

Across the internet there are a huge amount of budding authors. Popular writing website Wattpad revealed in January 2018 that it has 2.5 million writers using its service.

Still, the route to publication is still remarkably traditional. Most writers still have to go through the traditional publishing house model where agents represent their work to publishers who then provide editing and marketing.

Berlin-based start-up Inkitt GmbH aims to find a middle-ground between these two worlds. In doing so, it hopes to find the next Harry Potter, the company’s 28-year-old founder Ali Albazaz tells Bloomberg:

“The decision-making by big publishing houses can be very random and they tend to favor established authors. Discovering the next J.K. Rowling, the next Stephen King is what we strive for.”

How does the Inkitt app work?

Quite simply, it asks audiences for their opinion.

Writers upload their work to Inkitt, then readers get free access to these books. Readers are tracked as they read books through the service.

For example, the service sees whether readers recommend books to their friends via social media, if they can’t put books down, or stay up late to keep reading.

The system tracks over 1,200 different metrics regarding the ways people are reading. When they finish a book, readers must provide feedback.

Inkitt’s algorithm calculates books with the potential to be a hit from all the data available. The most successful books are then published by Inkitt as e-books, audiobooks, and in some cases in print.

Data is also used to calculate the best way to market books. Different covers, teasers, and blurbs can be deployed to test which ones perform best with users.

At the moment, Inkitt has around 300,000 readers. In 2017 it published around 50 books. The most successful of these was Reaper’s Claim, a romance thriller by debut author Simone Elise. According to Albazaz the novel was the twelfth best-selling e-book on Amazon at its debut in February 2017.

In 2018, Inkitt hopes to expand into the non-fiction sector. It is also planning to start selling its books in department stores and supermarkets such as Walmart and Tesco.

The company is yet to become profitable, but has several prominent investors including London-based Frontline Ventures and Berlin-based Earlybird Venture Capital.