Cambridge-based startup helps readers browse books in the digital world

Co-founders Josh Schanker and Nicholas Ciarelli.
Co-founders Josh Schanker and Nicholas Ciarelli. –Courtesy of BookBub

Josh Schanker’s first job, when he was in high school, was working at Waldenbooks in New York City.

“It was the perfect way for a nerdy kid like me to spend my summer,” Schanker said, although he wouldn’t end up returning to the publishing industry for two more decades.

He went off to Havard for his undergraduate education and then later went to MIT for his MBA. He started multiple companies after that, including Sombasa Media, an email marketing firm, and Sconex, a social networking site for teens. He later sold both.

Then, a writer friend approached him looking for ways to get people to discover the books she was publishing. Although Greater Boston still has many independent bookstores – Brookline Booksmith, Trident Books, and the Harvard Book Store, for example – the number of bookstores is decreasing across the country, making it harder for people to walk around the old-fashioned way to discover new topics and authors.

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“I realized that there’s a great need and an increasing need for readers to have new ways to discover books and new ways for the publishing industry to get books discovered,” Schanker said.

This is where BookBub – the Cambridge-based company Schanker and his business partner, Nicholas Ciarelli, founded in 2012 – comes in.

“We are fundamentally a book discovery site,” Schanker said. “Most of what we do is e-book related. When readers sign up we offer them discounts on e-books.”

Schanker and his team work with publishers, who pitch different e-book discounts and deals on their books. BookBub reviews those deals and decides which ones to include on its site.

BookBub then sends free personalized emails to each of its 8 million members each day with different deals based on the types of books the person prefers.

“As a result of our emails, our members purchase millions of books every month and they discover thousands of new authors every day,” Schanker said. The deals are basically just ways to get new book titles into the hands of people who otherwise might not have found them.

But how does a book company fit into the Boston tech scene?

“We don’t see our self as just e-books,” Schanker said. “But there is a big e-book component and digital media is a techy thing. Although publishing has been around for ages, e-books are a relatively new invention.”

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And like most tech startups, BookBub has been getting more and more sophisticated with its data as time goes on.

“Just sending millions of personalized emails a day is a high-tech endeavor,” he added.

BookBub has even expanded internationally and has relationships with authors and publishers outside of the United States.

“The Boston ecosystem is one of the greatest places to start a company,” Schanker said. “There are so many smart people and there’s a lot of intellectual curiosity and entrepreneurial people. The Boston culture is very aligned with the culture in the organization.”

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