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Librinova: A Startup for Digital Innovation in Publishing

Bernard Garrette, professor of strategy at HEC Paris, talks about his case study “Librinova: a startup for digital innovation in publishing” and about how he self-published his own fiction stories.

Librinova Case self publisher - Bernard Garrette ©BillionPhotos.com-AdobeStock_84194449

Digital self-publishing platform

The Librinova case features a startup company operating as a self-publishing website for would-be authors. Laure Prételat and Charlotte Allibert, the two HEC Paris alumnae who founded Librinova have created a unique value proposition for amateur writers: in addition to offering top-notch self-publishing services, they act as literary agents for all self-published e-books that reach a 1,000-copy circulation through the Librinova platform. The most successful manuscripts therefore have a chance of being published by established publishing houses. The case takes place when Librinova goes for a third round of funding. The main question I ask students is whether they would invest in this company, which points to a more fundamental issue: Librinova’s growth potential. This leads to a discussion on Librinova’s business model and the opportunity to transform it into a “two-sided platform” on which writers and publishers could interact directly. 

How I became a self-published writer on Librinova

In 2016, I wrote a collection of twelve short stories illustrated with my own drawings and I set out to publish it. I quickly realized that sending my work to conventional publishers would lead me nowhere. Publishers receive tons of unsolicited manuscripts and publish only a tiny fraction of them. Even Harry Potter  was rejected by several publishers before Bloomsbury took it. Moreover, most publishers are reluctant to publish short stories because most readers prefer novels. To put it briefly, the average publisher would see my manuscript as a typical UFO – Unpublishable Foolish Occupation. The only option was digital self-publishing. This is how I discovered Librinova. A quick benchmarking exercise taught me that Librinova was the best self-publishing website in France. I published my book with them. It’s now available on amazon at a laughably low price. I found Librinova’s business model so interesting that I wrote a case study on the company.

How to solve business problems

Most students and executive education delegates like discussing case studies and learning about strategy frameworks from real-life experiences. The Librinova case is a nice example of how digitalization can transform a traditional value chain into a two-sided market. The same thing is happening in transportation with Uber or in accommodation with AirBnb. However, most students lack a rigorous problem-solving approach when they analyze cases. This led me to team up with my colleagues Olivier Sibony (HEC Paris) and Corey Phelps (McGill University) to create courses on problem-solving and to write a book on this topic, which is called: Cracked It! How to Solve Big Problems and Sell Solutions like Top Strategy Consultants. But I didn’t self-publish this one. Thank God, Palgrave Macmillan has accepted to publish it! 

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