Fri | Nov 16, 2018

First AngelsJa successes | BookFusion spells s-u-c-c-e-s-s (Part 1)

Published:Tuesday | February 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Contributed The husband and wife team of Dwayne and Kellye-Rae Campbell who run BookFusion.
Contributed Dwayne Campbell (left), and his wife Kellye-Rae in discussion with Joseph M. Matalon, chairman of ICE Group in animated discussion.

Here is another in our series on how First AngelsJa has been helping persons to make their business a success. Read about the new and enhanced e-book reading experience.

Many great businesses have started from ideas sparked in college. After all, the halls of higher learning afford students the opportunity to explore all the possibilities open to them, even as they pursue particular majors.

Big-name examples include Facebook and Snapchat, whose founders and CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel eventually dropped out of Harvard and Stanford universities, respectively, to run their companies.

Dwayne Campbell, co-founder and CEO of BookFusion Limited, didn't drop out of Howard University, where he majored in chemical engineering. In fact, he didn't really do much with his initial idea until after graduation, when he was working and studying computer science in graduate school at Columbia University.

"As students, we were constantly sharing files with each other and received documents from professors which all had different formats, most of which required different software to read and access. It could be Adobe for PDF, Word for .doc, and the list goes on.

I wanted a platform that allowed me, my friends and others that had the same problem to be able to read any book regardless of the format, without requiring specialised software to be installed, and the ability to share e-books with friends and family the way you would a physical book," he explained.

"The idea evolved as I continued to travel back and forth to Jamaica, observing the gaps in the global market and incorporating concepts based on my experience working and studying natural language processing in graduate school."

This idea became a reality in January 2014, and BookFusion was finally made official in March 2015.

Venturing outside the typical 9-5 on to a global platform

BookFusion is an open, global e-book platform that provides a new and enhanced e-book reading experience. The application allows users to purchase/download, read, organise and share their e-books across any device, from e-readers to PCs. The platform is home to more than 40,000 e-books, in categories ranging from biographies and memoirs to cookbooks, crafts and hobbies, romance, self-help, children's literature and curriculum-based educational material.

The company is run by the husband-and-wife team of Dwayne and Kellye-Rae Campbell, who met while attending Manchester High School. Dwayne handles the technical and business sides of the operation, while Kellye-Rae, a lawyer, is the company's COO and legal counsel.

Dwayne wasn't always sure he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but he did always have ideas. He recalled having a notebook in which he had written about wanting to create a Caribbean version of PayPal.

"I know I've always wanted to try to do a venture outside of the typical nine-to-five, but it's not that I set out on doing that in the first place," he said. "I saw the opportunity, and with BookFusion, it just kept nagging at me, so I decided to pursue it full-time."

BookFusion is actually the Campbells' second business venture. In 2009, they opened Akira Teknologies, an electronics store in Mandeville, where they sold cell phones and laptops, offering an affordable alternative to traditional stores, where prices were tremendously marked up. The business folded in 2011 when the supermarket in which it operated was sold and they couldn't find another suitable location with large volumes of foot traffic.

Making a difference in education

BookFusion's first wave of activity is geared towards the local education sector. Last October, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Minister of Education Ruel Reid, which allowed it to integrate the Ministry of Education's Tablets in Schools Programme into its platform.

So far, BookFusion has been able to digitise 70 texts under the Ministry of Education's Doctor Bird and Blue Mahoe reading series for primary schools, and the Early Childhood and Literacy 1-2-3 series for basic schools. Students, teachers and parents across the island can now gain free access to the ministry's entire digital library on the BookFusion platform, both online and offline on any device - desktop, smartphone or tablet.

The next move is to add interactive elements to the relevant e-books, which will engage the students and enable them to learn certain key topics faster.

"If you look at the ministries of education throughout the Caribbean and in Africa and other regions, with their digital strategies, they have to provide content, but also distribute. In previous programmes, they would have to recall all the tablets to a physical loca-tion in order to upload the content. Outside of that, they also had difficulties negotiating with publishers to get content to put on the tablets, since they had no secure way of distributing that content and restricting access.

What we do is provide them with a platform that allows them to reduce operational costs. Now they can push content to all tablets from a central dashboard, and we allow them to negotiate much more reasonable prices with publishers. For example, instead of having full licence for the book, they can negotiate using the book for a specified time, or just using particular chapters. What that does is reduce the spend that governments would have to make to pay for educational content for a year," Dwayne explained.


The platform also provides a boon for authors and publishers in the Caribbean and other emerging markets.

"If you look on Amazon, you will only see the physical books for sale most of the time. One of the reasons for this is because Amazon has such draconian terms. If an e-book sale occurs from the Caribbean, they take up to 70 per cent of the money and only 30 per cent goes back to the publisher," Dwayne said. "Compared to our platform, we're trying to give publishers and authors more control over their rights and their content, so we take only 25 per cent per e-book sold, regardless of where that sale occurs."

"The company's current focus on educational books is also a key part of its revenue model. When you look on the Caribbean region, the educational sector accounts for more than 70 per cent of the publishing industry. So we're currently focused on those publishers so that we can build up a healthy revenue in order to allow us to support the other genres on our platform and have a much more balanced selection," Dwayne said.

Follow The Gleaner for Part 2 of this interesting feature.