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BookBub, Cambridge site promoting free and discounted e-books, approaches one million subscribers

Posted by Scott Kirsner  March 15, 2013 08:30 AM

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Closing in on one million subscribers is BookBub, an e-mail newsletter operated out of Cambridge. It's essentially a "daily deals" e-mail for avid readers, offering free or discounted downloads of what co-founder Josh Schanker calls "acclaimed books" in digital form.

And BookBub was only founded in January of last year.

Schanker says got the idea for BookBub from talking to a friend, Jennifer 8. Lee, who had started an e-book publishing company. "It seemed like publishers were looking for ways to build awareness for their titles and authors, and they wanted to spend money doing that, but no one was there to take their money," he says.

Readers sign up for the free BookBub newsletter, and specify the genres they're interested in. Each day, they get an e-mail touting three to five free or discounted e-books. Publishers and independent authors pay to be listed in the newsletter, though Schanker says there is some curation: "Everything that we feature is fundamentally an ad, but we reject more than half of the submissions sent to us." He says five of the largest book publishers are customers, along with "hundreds of independent authors."

Why do authors or publishers pay money to promote e-books they're giving away for free? "At the very basic level," Schanker explains, "it may be to get more exposure for themselves as an author, for the publisher, or maybe for a book series. Everyone is trying to build up an audience base."

The company has six employees in Kendall Square, but Schanker says they're about to post another another five or six job listings. Schanker previously started and sold two other local companies: Sombasa Media (acquired by About.com) and Sconex (acquired by Alloy Marketing & Media.). He and BookBub co-founder Nicholas Ciarelli have been bootstrapping the company so far, without outside funding.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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