E-book service BookBub raises $7m and pushes its global expansion

BookBub co-founders Josh Schanker, left, and Nick Ciarelli. Photo via Bookbub.
BookBub co-founders Josh Schanker, left, and Nick Ciarelli. Photo via Bookbub.

Quick. Name the country that has the world’s second largest English speaking population.

Hint: the country also has a rapidly growing educated population that’s reading an increasing number of books.

If you guessed India, you’re right. But to BookBub, the Kendall Square-based company that releases a daily newsletter providing millions of readers deals on e-books, this question is far more that just a bit of trivia. In India, the company saw an opportunity to dramatically expand its reach, and so it officially launched in the country earlier this month.

It’s all part of a big few weeks for the team. Just last week, the New England Venture Capital Association named BookBub the Hottest Seed Startup. Now, the company has more good news, they’ve just won another round of funding: $7 million in new equity and debt financing.

“This funding will help us expand our products and services to make it easier for readers to discover great books, and to help authors and publishers reach avid readers,” said Josh Schanker, BookBub’s president.

Both Schanker and his co-founder, Nick Ciarelli, who came together to start this company in early 2012, have tasted entrepreneurial success before. Schanker launched the youth marketing agency Sconex (which was acquired by Alloy Media), while Ciarelli hosted the Apple fan site Think Secret for years, much to the ire of Steve Jobs.

The service creates a profile of member’s tastes and tells them about e-books of interest which are on offer at free or discounted rates for a limited time. A Cambridge-based editorial team reviews e-books sent in by publishers and authors to decide which ones will be featured on BookBub; just 10 to 20 percent of submissions make the cut. Worldwide, BookBub currently has over 5 million members. Outside the United States, the company offers localized services for members in the United Kingdom, Canada, and India.

The curators are a big part of the company’s success thus far, says Schanker. At their fingertips, they have the technology to examine historical data on how their members have reacted to books across categories and regions. So, over time, they will potentially get better at selecting books that fit a particular audience.

“The company’s founders have recruited solid leadership combining talent from top publishing firms like Random House and Penguin, along with local tech successes like Hubspot and Brightcove,” says C.A. Webb, executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association. “They’re changing the way readers learn about books, and have the potential to become one of the core ways publishers and authors get their books discovered. In short, they are transforming the way an industry operates.”

Schanker says he believes we’re in the midst of a massive shift in reader behavior. Today, he points out, about half of US book purchases happen online while half of US adults own a tablet or e-reader. As their habits change, readers need new ways to discover books, and authors and publishers need new to ways to reach them. BookBub makes money by charging publishers to be included in their newsletter.

With the new funding, BookBub plans to continue to expand their team. Currently, they have a little over 40 employees and Schanker says they intend to hire and additional “20 to 30 new employees over the next year.”

As a global business, Schanker said they will also continue expanding internationally. “About 15 percent of our members now live outside the United States,” he said, “Our goal is to reach one million members worldwide this year while expanding to additional countries.”