With nearly 130 million books in circulation, bookstores are flooded with an overwhelming number choices and publishers are ever more selective about which literary works see the light of day. Despite a surge in electronic books, the odds are so highly stacked against new writers that getting a novel published these days seems like winning the lottery.
For the sake of writers and readers, Mel Rosenberg and Ran Shternin came up with OurBoox, a platform that looks to democratize the publication process so that only the books that we really want to read fill (online) bookshelves. OurBoox claims to be the world’s “simplest” platform for creating and sharing books, and was developed to give a voice to the thousands of writers and illustrators who struggle to get their work published, or for those who wouldn’t usually have the courage to try.
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From one struggling author to another
About 10 years ago Mel Rosenberg, a former scientist turned children’s books author, came up with the idea to make online books available for free. A struggling author himself, Mel, who comes from Israel, recognized the difficulties that many writers face and hoped to find a solution that would meet everyone’s needs. That’s when Rosenberg came up with an idea to publish his own e-books online for free so that he could build an online fan base, an endeavor he called ‘Mel Tells’.
However, Mel wasn’t able to achieve stunning success on his own, which is why he decided to open the platform to a larger audience through ‘OurBoox’. OurBoox is a completely free service and written in open code, which means that Google and other search engines can read every word that is published on the site. Similar sites, like e-book industry leader Amazon, block the ability to search literary content on their website, but because OurBoox is an open code website, authors who publish on the site get more exposure to potential readers through Internet searches. OurBoox has what Mel calls “great search-ability,” and provides completely free online books to its users, who can sign in at at any time and read as many books as they desire.
Henry Ford and OurBoox – what’s the connection?
OurBoox also has a unique and simply-designed user experience, reminiscent of Henry Ford’s famous model T. It’s hard to forget Ford’s famous line “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”; OurBoox takes a similar approach in the simplicity of its user experience, asserting that every e-book created on the platform “looks amazing” on any monochromatic electronic device. Authors can publish a book in any genre of their choosing, “so long as it’s square and uses one font,” Rosenberg explains. Though there is a universal standard of appearances on the site, users can add pictures, illustrations, animations, videos, and even hyperlinks to their work to give their stories added appeal.
“We are building a kind of ‘YouTube of books.’ The same way that YouTube’s mantra was that you can upload a film, OurBoox gives a voice to anybody who writes or illustrates,” Rosenberg explains.
Much like with YouTube, quality control is a mass endeavor, so it takes some time to find the exact book you are looking for amidst a sea of options. OurBoox seems to let anyone become an author, if they are willing, which may have ramifications for the quality of literature on the site. For instance, once such novel entitled “Let Them Eat French Toast” may have the potential to become the next New York Times bestseller, but, due to the absence of input from an experienced publisher, is stuck with an unfortunate title that makes one look the other way.
Teachers, students, and advertisers may help with challenges
Still in its early stages, OurBoox is self-funded and operates on a low budget, but, despite the difficulty the company has encountered in promoting the product, the startup is doing nicely. With over 2,000 members, the site offers over 1,900 books spanning 40 different genres in dozen or more languages. Books are added to the site everyday and several publishers have expressed interest in certain manuscripts available on the site. “Our biggest success would be for an author to find a publisher through our site. My dream is that any time anybody looks for anything anywhere, they will find at least one of our books,” Mel says of his vision for the future of OurBoox.
The site may also prove to be a valuable asset for advertisers as the commercially-driven sector becomes increasingly story-based. Like YouTube, Mel believes that advertisements could accompany stories that share similar content and he hopes that there are big bucks in the developing sector of information books, providing content of a commercial nature, like one book featured on the site called “My Day at the London Zoo.”
Teachers and students may also find valuable uses for OurBoox’s platform in their classrooms. The site already has a feature that allows authors to upload educational textbooks and Mel recognizes that this maybe just the tip of the iceberg. Research shows that reading and writing skills are two of the most important developmental skills in young children and are more interdependent than once thought. OurBoox’s easy-to-use technology not only presents students with plenty of accessible reading material, but it also gives them a platform to share their writing with the world.
Eventually, as the website grows, Mel and his team hope to be able to financially compensate their most popular contributing authors and illustrators. For now, however, the most important thing is to ensure that the books on the site stay free and searchable- and that writers and illustrators around the world have a platform that openly allows them to share their literary voice.
Photos: Neil Turner/ OurBoox