Today Santa Clara, CA-based Kno announced the launch of Advance, a DIY platform for textbook publishers that allows them to convert and update their content from static print to being more interactive and tablet-friendly. Using Advance, publishers can turn their print books into ebooks, and add links and multimedia to text. Founded in 2009, the company is backed by investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital, and Goldman Sachs, and to date works with over 80 publishers to offer over 200,000 titles on its platform available for the web, iPad, Android, and Windows 7 and 8.
Co-founder Osman Rashid, who previously co-founded online textbook marketplace Chegg, spoke with BetaKit about the new platform and how the company plans to leverage it to accelerate the new era of interactive textbooks. “We’re launching a platform that allows our publishing partners to instantly update the content they have on our platform across the board,” said Rashid in an interview. “Here’s a great example, when it was decided that Pluto was no longer going to be in the solar system, it would typically take publishers three years in their print world to update the book to make the change. With Kno’s platform, the next morning they can update the book and send it out to everyone reading it instantaneously.”
The Advance platform is made up of three individual modules Kno has built, each with the goal of helping publishers make content more interactive and accessible on smartphones, tablets, and computers. The first is Kno Ingest, which lets publishers upload a PDF and convert them into ebooks. Next, using the Kno Book Enhancer, publishers can make their titles interactive by adding links, podcasts, videos, and other multimedia content. Lastly, with the Kno Assessment, publishers can take their end-of-chapter exercises and assignments and turn them into interactive browser sessions for students while, allowing them to track their progress.
The platform is free to use for publishers and though Rashid did not disclose the exact details of Kno’s business model, he said the company keeps a percentage of each sale made through its online marketplace of interactive textbooks. Making the Advance platform free to publishers makes sense, since Kno’s focus is on making its library of titles as robust as possible, but for publishers who can only sell their enhanced titles through Kno’s marketplace, it could be limiting.
Competitor Inkling also announced the launch of its new set of digital publishing tools this week, which let authors publish to Apple, Amazon, and other sources. And while there are also other self-publishing tools that range from Apple’s iBooks, to Kindle Direct, to Kobo’s Writing Life, Kno’s platform isn’t targeted to individual authors. Osman said he thinks Kno’s cross-platform availability, selection of titles, and assessment and analytic tools will help it continue to form partnerships with publishers like Wiley and McGraw Hill.
Though currently only targeting major publishers, Osman said Kno’s platform will continue to evolve to give other smaller players the ability to add content. By only selling books enhanced through Advance through its own marketplace, the startup aims to step up to the plate to compete directly with Amazon and other large distributors. It’s a lofty goal, and the digital textbook space is littered with startups and larger industry players all looking for the biggest piece of the pie. Kno might have the right approach to getting publishers online, but whether it can edge out the competition remains to be seen.