Journalism
3:31 pm
Fri June 14, 2013

Miami Startup Helps Book Authors Help Themselves

Bookigee's COO Glen Surnamer explains the company's business model at The LAB Miami in Wynwood.
Bookigee's COO Glen Surnamer explains the company's business model at The LAB Miami in Wynwood.
Credit Sarah Darville

Miami may have an emerging start-up culture but it definitely does not have much of a publishing culture.

Bookigee

For Bookigee, a Miami-based startup looking to help authors market their own books, that absence has brought attention to the company. But its founders say there have also been real challenges in reaching the rest of the industry and much-needed capital from South Florida.

"Other than Books & Books and the culture that's evolved around Books & Books, there's no reason to build a publishing tech startup in Miami," said Bookigee's COO Glen Surnamer.

But Bookigee (pronounced BOOK-uh-jee) is doing it anyway. The company has created a searchable database of bookstores, libraries and bloggers for authors who are anxious to supplement the minimal marketing work of most book publishers with an author's own efforts.

"It's the same dynamics as music, where Radiohead and U2 and the Stones get all the marketing dollars," Surnamer said. "They need it the least, but that's where the return on investment is, and it's similar in publishing."

WriterCube

The database to help writers combat that reality is called WriterCube, the brainchild of Bookigee CEO Kristen McLean, a former executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children. Tasked with writing a book about the mechanics of book publishing in 2008, McLean instead realized that she was more interested in changing the system than writing about the one that currently existed.

Bookigee—like many startups—has changed its spots more than once. McLean and Surnamer, who used to work for a hedge fund but now handles the company's finances, originally imagined a website to provide high-quality, personalized book recommendations.

"The first thing that was realized was, as a publishing startup, going after Amazon or being perceived as going after Amazon, is not a good thing," Surnamer said.

Incubate Miami

After a stint at Incubate Miami, McLean and Surnamer shifted gears completely, creating tools to mash up social media data with book-sales data to help authors determine where their books will sell best.

Now their focus is on their online database, and though it's relatively low-tech, Surnamer said they hope it will allow Bookigee to grow and eventually release other analytics tools.

Silicon Beach

Surnamer explained Bookigee during a recent conference at The LAB Miami, a colorful, shared-working space in Wynwood that serves as a hub for the Miami start-up scene and where McLean occasionally works.

Before the interview, he pushed aside coffee cups and Zephyrhills water bottles after a meeting earlier with Endeavor, a global entrepreneurship network that recently announced plans to open an office in Miami.

The city's growing profile as the new "Silicon Beach" has been helpful in getting Bookigee mature, Surnamer said, and even Miami's small footprint in the publishing world has has its advantages.

"Miami has given us a longer runway to figure our stuff out," he said. "The competitive advantage is we're not a dime-a-dozen here."

With only a handful of paying customers right now, Bookigee is focusing on growth. Surnamer said he expects that to take place in Miami, though he rattled off a list of strategic concerns, from resources and capital to talent that could induce them to move in the future.

"We're very interested in building the Miami tech community," said Surnamer. But he added that any good entrepreuneur must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary in order to build a business.

Sarah Darville recently graduated with a degree in English from Columbia University and is serving as a Google Journalism Fellow this summer with the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.