Carrboro free e-book business Freebooksy receives $50,000 grant

As e-books gain popularity, companies that provide them are gaining ground — like Freebooksy, a free e-book business in Carrboro.

Freebooksy recently received one of five grants of up to $50,000 awarded by the NC IDEA grant program. The company was one of nearly a hundred applicants to the program.

NC IDEA is a private non-profit that identifies technology-based and scalable start-ups in North Carolina and awards them with grants that can get them to the next step so that they can find larger investments.

“We were very excited and honored to be one of those," said Ricci Wolman, CEO of Freebooksy.

Wolman said she came up with the idea for the company when she was helping her mother, an independent author, to market her book. Wolman said she found that independently published authors lack a platform to reach a large audience.

"I wanted to help those authors actually get attention," she said.

Wolman said websites like Amazon can provide powerful marketing to e-book authors but are often overwhelming with their large stock of available books. So Wolman founded Freebooksy, which offers a small number of free e-books each day.

John Austin, a reviewer for the NC IDEA grant program, said Freebooksy stood out for a number of reasons, one of the most important being the company's care for its customers.

“The team really understood the core drivers of their current business — they really communicated their customer acquisition costs and lifetime value of their customers very well,” Austin said in an email.

Wolman said Freebooksy adjusts itself according to the customers’ needs; for example, the genres of the books are chosen based on the readers’ requests.

"We have a very active community and the customers can communicate directly with us through Facebook, emails or our website," she said.

Austin said the other key element of Freebooksy’s winning proposal was that self-published e-books are a growing market.

“They had established a presence with their current website properties and were proposing interesting new directions that could really grow and change their business," he said. "The use of the grant would be instrumental in making that happen."

Wolman said the grant would be helpful in moving Freebooksy forward.

“We are going to use the funds to improve the readers’ experience and to extend the advertising platform,” she said.

Wolman said Freebooksy and its sister site, BargainBooksy, have more than 200,000 readers between them.

"It's really great for college students, since students are meeting a budget," she said.

Erin Sapienza, director of the Carrboro branch of Orange County Public Libraries, said the rising e-book market doesn’t affect people’s love for printed materials and that the library plans to add more e-books as it sees an increase in e-book checkout.

“We have found that even now people have an electronic device and they are downloading e-books, they are still coming into the library to use printed materials as well,” she said.

UNC sophomore Anna Lee said self-publishing seems risky for authors, since it cannot guarantee them name recognition or support for design, marketing and travel.

“There’s less people in the middle to help them," she said.

Lee said that despite this, as a reader, she is still interested in Freebooksy.

“I’ve never heard of something like that," she said. "It is a good idea to get on that trend of having a service that makes personalized recommendations for you."

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