Today Berlin-based Readmill, a digital reading platform, announced the launch of its iPhone app to complement its existing iPad app, which launched in 2011. Although co-founder and CEO Henrik Berggren did not disclose the exact number of registered users the platform has to date, he spoke with BetaKit about its iPad reader, saying that the company is looking to tap into the 29 percent of Americans 18 and older who own a tablet or e-reader, and now they’re trying to bring smartphone users on board with the new app.
“Readmill was very much born out of the frustration that e-reading was nothing more than a physical book slapped on a computer screen, with fake wooden bookshelves…nobody was really utilizing the wonders of a networked device in ebooks,” said Berggren in an interview. “So we said why not build a platform where people can share, discover, and discuss books in a way where the reading is still the actual focus…we kind of call it a shared reading platform, where you read as you always have…but at the same time we’re kind of gathering up a diary or history of that experience.”
Berggren made the analogy of Readmill being a mix of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader meets GoodReads’ reading social network all in one, where individual readers can follow other members, annotate and share highlights, see which passages their friends highlighted, and at the same time write reviews and rate the material. The company also places a great deal of emphasis on typography and user interface in an attempt to create a more seamless reading experience.
BetaKit covered the startup when it updated its iPad app to support additional ebook formats and added publishing partners. Currently the platform supports popular open standards of Adobe DRM-protected ePub and PDF formats, and lets readers access online retailers like the Google Play marketplace and the Kobo Store. The company also partners with more than 60 independent online book retailers like Pragmatic Programer, Feedbooks, and a number of free ebook distributors. Readers can click the ‘send to Readmill’ button when they check out or download with partner sites, and are able to open the app and start reading.
“There are three islands and those are disjointed. Amazon has their own system…Apple has their own system…and then we have the third one [independents]. But the interesting thing is the size of these different islands are about the same,” Berggren added. “What we’re doing is, we’re tying up independent bookstores all across the web to use Readmill as their default reader…our joint catalogue is millions of titles.”
Though platforms like Wattpad, a self-publishing and free reading app, are also taking off, Berggren said the company’s biggest competition are apps like BookShout in addition to the traditional players in the market the likes of Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Kobo. When asked about potential monetization strategies, Berggren said that with the changing trend of how authors and publishers connect with readers, the company sees opportunities in providing exclusive previews, promoted content and recommendations, among other things.
Readmill will also be launching on Android down the road, and having a multi-platform approach will likely be necessary to stay afloat in space where there are several big players and startups fighting for readers’ attention. If it can build a community of readers and keep expanding the platforms and ebooks it supports, it has a good chance of growing in 2013, and potentially becoming an acquisition target for Apple, Amazon, and the other major players in the digital reading space.