June 15, 2015 Last Updated 6:05 am

Founder of The Pigeonhole on the serialized future of books

Guest column: TNM has invited Jacob Cockcroft, founder of The Pigeonhole, to explain their unique, new serialized book service, which launched last October

There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book, right? Not anymore. We live in a world of distraction, one in which information comes in a digestible digital format – to our computers, our tablets, our phones, and soon, our watches. The traditional publishing model has been forced to adapt, shifting its focus from the physical and so creating space for a crop of new reading platforms like Oyster, Scribd and Glose. Some believe that this has made publishers redundant – cutting out the middleman and offering a sense of autonomy through the e-book model. Yet what we are left with is an unfiltered sea of potential masterpieces. The online shop front is a murky, disorientating place.

At The Pigeonhole we’ve tried to create the best of both worlds; publishing hand-picked new books along with the best content from traditional publishers and serializing it all to your phone, tablet, Kindle or laptop. We commission, edit and publish texts in bite-size chunks, on a platform in which readers can engage with the text, each other, and the authors. Our platform is dedicated to harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of authors in order to build communities of readers. And now, you can choose who you read and talk with – private pocket-sized book groups.


Jacob Cockcroft (Photo: Aurore Belkin)

Although the digital publishing and retailing market is growing fast, our approach is fundamentally different. The Pigeonhole is more reminiscent of a book club than a would-be Amazon competitor.

Based in Berlin and London, we combine three things to create our social reading experience: serialization (readers receive weekly installments directly to their mobile, tablet or kindle); a live community conversation with author and reader within the pages of the book and multimedia extra content (e.g. little videos with the author sitting at their writing desk). Each title also gets its own beautifully designed book page, often with exclusively commissioned illustrations.

The idea is to create a genuinely immersive reading experience, one that connects authors and readers through the portal to another world. Further, to bridge the digital/physical divide, we organize meet-ups in certain cities so that readers can come together and discuss the book they are reading. For our philosophy series, Wisdom Hackers, we coordinated events in almost twenty destinations in one night alone, ranging from London to New York to Reykjavik to Jakarta.

The serialized format also allows for innovative content, such as real-time writing and fast-paced short story series. For our upcoming series, Letters from Berlin, we’ll be publishing personal dispatches from districts in the city and readers will be able to join the contributors for accompanying interactive events – from mini-walking tours to gallery visits. The content is brought to life by those reading it, we offer them the framework to explore their books with fellow readers, both physically and digitally. This has huge implications for our authors too, allowing each to be involved in the production, dissemination and reception of their work. We want to re-establish opportunities for emerging writers and include them in the conversation surrounding the publication of their work.

Our 50/50% revenue split creates a reality in which dynamic authors have the chance of making real money. As Anna Jean Hughes, my cofounder and recently named Rising Star in the publishing industry says, “the traditional publishing model is broken, this is why I left, there were too many wonderful people falling through the gaps. The Pigeonhole could be the solution”.

The idea behind the serialization model is to build excitement, whilst also providing a structured framework for authors to build a community. Anna talks about the “anticipation” built through serialization, about “giving people something to look forward too, something to incorporate into the rhythm of their daily lives.” It is also vital in a world where traditional publishing works to increasingly pitiful marketing and publicity budgets. In this way, we offer not only exciting possibilities for authors and readers, but also a financially sustainable publishing model.

ThePigeonhole-iPhoneWe have just released the BETA of our private group functionality, where users can set up their own book groups and choose how often they want to receive their installments. This means that all highlighting and commenting is unique to this group. The idea is to create digital spaces where people can have private social conversations around the book of their choice, across the globe. A lot of people are rebelling against the open forum nature that Facebook and Twitter offer and are looking for something more personal – they want to share with their friends and family, not the whole world. This, I believe, is the direction in which philosophy of the Internet is moving. There is so much chatter, noise and choice that it becomes overwhelming to the point of inaccessible. It is in need of mediation.

The Pigeonhole already has users in over 160 countries and we are on course to have 10,000 users by the end of the year – and we only launched in October. Alongside this, we were nominated for the Digital Innovation Award at the London Book Fair this year. We are in negotiations with a wide variety of publishers keen to utilize our unique platform and recently collaborated with the wonderful Stefan Tobler at And Other Stories to publish a series of short stories from award-winning writer Angela Readman.

We have started reaching out to schools interested in experimenting with the technology for English classes. In order to showcase this possibility, we have been running free serializations of classics such as Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray, alongside our new fiction and non-fiction offerings.

Our aim is to make reading exciting again for readers, authors and publishers alike. And to do so in a world in which books have to compete with all the other distractions on offer. We believe that reading gives people a crucial advantage in our increasingly competitive world, so the publishing industry must utilize the technology available, and include authors in this process, or risk losing the coming generations.

Jacob Cockcroft is the founder, along with Anna Jean Hughes, of The Pigeonhole

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