It’s time to stop and take a moment of silence for the fall of another promising startup. ReadMill, the Berlin-based ebook reading app with Swedish founders for iOS and Android, announced in April that it will be closing and shutting down on the 1st July.
The specific reasons and the thought process behind what I’m sure was a long and difficult decision to come to aren’t fully laid out in ReadMill’s epilogue published on their website, but the few statements made do provide us with some clues.
“Many challenges in the world of ebooks remain unsolved, and we failed to create a sustainable platform for reading.” Not just ebooks, but publishing in general has struggled for at least the decade as profit margins have shrunk, interest in reading in general has waden and the market is dominated by a few popular authors and monolithic publishing houses.
Outside of Kindle, which remains supported and subsidized by the rest of Amazon’s business, the world of ebooks, as ReadMill describe it, is a world struggling to find its place. Players such as Oyster Books, Sribd and Bookmate are all experimenting with subscription based finance models to support themselves. You can imagine them as the Spotify’s of the reading world.
ReadMill offered a free app to read any ebook, either free ones downloaded through their app, or imported into the app. They had designed a very popular reading app that allowed readers to highlight and note down favourite passages then share them with friends. It featured a night time reading option, and according to feedback provided possibly the best user interface and reading experience. However in hindsight with limited growth in their user numbers and no way to monetize their user base, this always seemed like the most likely end.
“Our team will be joining Dropbox.” When the money starts to run out and no other financing option look viable it is natural to start to look to move on. According to TechCrunch a deal for $8 million was made in the form of shares and cash, with co-founders Henrik Berggren and David Kjelkerud moving to San Fancisco. If Dropbox hadn’t come along with an offer, would there have been a more determined push to see ReadMill survive? Might they have tried one of the other financing options regardless of their doubts? We will never know now, but let’s look to the positives. ReadMill will be no more, but the team have been hired by Dropbox and continue to have employment, so for them it’s sad news, but not bad news.
ReadMill has also tried to mitigate the bad for its users as well. There’s a three month window, well only two now, open before the app closes for good and an export page has been set up to help users transfer their books, highlights and other data to new services.
One of which could be FastR, based in Finland, who have dedicated a page on their website to making the transition from ReadMill to their platform as easy as possible and are actively courting old ReadMill users. It makes a lot of sense for one ebook startup to try to gather another’s users, especially when there are other, larger players in the market who might take such a closure for granted.
FastR seem to have gone out of their way to make the move to their service as easy as possible. It’s interesting to note that in ReadMill’s epilogue they say that there are no other ebook readers that offer their highlighting service, so user made highlights won’t be able to be transfered. Yet FastR promise exactly that. It looks like with only a month gone FastR have managed to implement something of ReadMill’s highlight feature so that users will be able to keep that personal data and not lose it.
So what have we learnt from such a story? There is the importance of knowing your financing model. There is a sad lesson that even with an excellent, well received app, if the user base isn’t there, or isn’t growing fast enough, it might not be enough to keep you in the game. Perhaps it is that the world of ebooks is still a risky place, one with many potential pitfalls, but one would like to think, also the possibility of great reward, should a team bring together a well implemented app, along with a large groundswell of users.