TwoReads: New Adventures

Dear blog readers and friends of our startup project, the silence of these last few months is due to a radical reorganisation of TwoReads.

On the 28th of August we had a meeting with Roberto Lombardi, our business angel. He made us come to terms with the fact that although the relationship with editors is productive, it is too slow. Furthermore, the market for essay writing, on which we were concentrated, is too small, at least in Italy at this stage. We have therefore decided to spin right round and have restarted from readers themselves and from reading as we enter the bookshop. TwoReads is designed to help readers find their desired book with ease, even without much information, at the same time suggesting other interesting books, in support – and certainly not instead of – the bookseller.

ordine scaffali libreria 2

Since September, following the lesson of Donald Norman and of human-centred design, we have fundamentally rethought our way of planning. We want to start from our users and fully understand what they need. Having conducted several interviews with customers in Milanese bookshops, we were immediately struck by the fact that the greater part of missed purchases is caused by lack of information in bookshops. This happens for of a number of reasons: at times because the layout of the genres does not match the mental layout of the customer (for example, the latest novel of Camilleri, Malvaldi, Manzini is considered “Italian narrative” by the reader but “Italian thriller” by the bookshop); at times the desired book is mis-catalogued and displayed in a section unknown to the reader; at times the customer does not want to ask the booksellers for help – and here we must remember that non-readers or “weak readers” also enter bookshops, and can feel intimidated by the atmosphere. On the other hand, when seasoned readers enter a bookshop they may prefer to find their own way around. All such outcomes answer for the missed purchases of over 30% of customers who enter chain bookshops. Furthermore, the larger the bookshop, the more this percentage tends to grow.

After surveying chain bookshops, we conducted a number of interviews in small, independent bookshops, holding less than 30.000 items. Here the opposite problem occurred, with a very high selling rate (100 customers to 200 sold books) but with very few customers.

We decided therefore, to interview people we saw reading in the street, asking how much and what they read, where and how they buy etc. We are trying to understand, in ample terms, what the experience of reading is: from the discovery of a book, to the purchase, to reading (if this ever happens). However, we think it best to discuss this aspect of the research, which is extremely important to us, in a separate post, as it is interesting in itself.

After interviewing various people, we threw together a few ideas and began to prototype them very quickly. Having created a layout on paper we immediately took it to the bookshop to see what customers would think. We will be building therefore, an app, which will help people “navigate” through actual bookshops, a tool which simultaneously gives the user quick access to all available information, which is otherwise found on web indexes, whilst directing the user through the bookshelves.

But in TwoReads things happen very quickly indeed: on the 28th of September Giulio Bonamone and Andrea Zanni decided to abandon the project. Giulio returned to Padoa in order to follow his passion for CoderDojo, the teaching of computing to children, whilst Andrea began working for MediaLibraryOnLine, a startup project that will allow him to pursue his commitment to libraries. TwoReads wants to thank these two friends wholeheartedly for the time spent on this journey together, and wishes all the best to both of them.

A few days before, on the 22nd of September, we had been told that we were amongst the five finalists of CONTEC at the Frankfurt Bookfair. Busy with the fresh work and adjusting to the changes, we had completely forgotten that we had entered! Lorenzo and I (Adriano) decided to go anyway. With very little time to get ourselves organised, we had to arrange everything at the last minute, without either of us ever having set foot in Frankfurt. We booked a hotel near the train station and arrived the night before the presentation of the project. As far as we could see, the area behind the station was a red-light district. Our Hotel Angel was an unfriendly-looking boarding house, which however thought to charge, during the bookfair season, five-star prices.

hotel

We slept in a dirty, smoke-ridden room and awoke in the morning with dreadful sore throats and blistering headaches (but to tell the truth, we ought to admit here that the latter was most likely induced by the much-appreciated German beer).  Having gathered our wits, we scuttled down to cancel our reservation and find another hotel for the next few nights. After finding a slightly better one, not far from there, we put down our luggage and made for the fair for the presentation.

Our first impact with the fair was rather interesting; this truly enormous event (which was in part still empty, seeing as the presentation was to take place the day before the official opening) had a great impact on us. After having presented our project we began to meet a few people: to our great pleasure Mauro Tosca of Gems and Gregorio Pellegrino of Effatà Editrice came to say hello. The afternoon sped by and the time for the prize giving finally arrived. We were convinced that the winners would be the contestants from Papertrell, especially seeing as one of their representatives had arrived from India the day before and was scheduled to leave that very night. Howbeit, there and then, to our great surprise, we were declared winners of the  Digital Publishing Creative Ideas Award 2014 for best business project.

Lorenzo Losa and Adriano Guarnieri at the Frankfurt Bookfair.
Lorenzo Losa and Adriano Guarnieri at the Frankfurt Bookfair.

The moment the award was announced, we heard several girls cheer in Italian. These were the wonderful Paola, Anna and Giulia of AIE. We all went for dinner to a place in town; the girls welcomed us to Frankfort and explained to us how the Italian stands worked (busy as they were, we didn’t get the chance to see them again). We spent the rest of the days amongst the stands, meeting loads of people and discovering lots of different things. We received an invite to the Scandinavian Publishing Executive Meeting , which means that the 20th of November we will be in Copenhagen.

Thanks to our victory in Frankfurt, a wide net of contacts has been opened to us in Italy as well. As soon as we got back to Milan, we met Simonetta Pilon from Informazioni Editoriali  and together we made plans for a series of preliminary tests of our app in an IBS bookshop. For us, this is a fundamental and beautiful experience. We have finally entered in direct contact with data and real customers and can therefore develop the app at the best of our abilities, having immediate feedback from the reader. But, with this long story, I have already abused your patience and, hoping to leave you still curious of this project, I will postpone the rest until the next post, in a few days time.

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