New Enhanced Ebook Start-up Orson & Co. Wants to Create a New Kind of Reading Experience

A new digital publishing start-up believes that publishers haven’t yet figured out how to create compelling enhanced ebooks and wants to fill that gap.

The New York-based start-up, Orson & Co., will publish iOS apps that look and feel like ebooks to users — they call them e-Lumes. Its first app is an interactive electronic version of Richard Mason’s History of a Pleasure Seeker (Random House). Random House published the print version of the book and a simple straight-text version; Orson & Co. licensed the text rights to create its product.

The app itself behaves like an ebook for readers. It has several enhancements, including original images, original audio files, author videos, original essays diving into the historical context of the novel, and archival images, which were licensed. A read-along feature is narrated by Dan Stevens, star of the hit BBC drama Downton Abbey.

Mason, who is a founder of Orson & Co. in addition to being the author of its first book, said that the entire production of the first product cost about $20,000, not including the software development and design costs. It took two years to bring to life, including building the technology required to create the app. Now that technology will be used to create other products, including an illustrated, interactive version of the Old Testament.

“The tablet makes a new kind of storytelling possible,” said Mason.

The company’s aim is to create new kinds of reading experiences based on the unique capabilities of tablet computers. According to Mason, other enhnanced ebooks add features like video without thinking about how they may detract from the reading experience.

Currently the company has five full-time employees as well as a handful of developer contractors. It has angel funding but is seeking series A funding. When asked about venture-capital’s appetite to invest in the book publishing space, Mason was optimistic.

“Silicon Valley thinks that someone is going to crack the enhanced ebook,” he said, adding that Apple is enthusiastic about the company’s products.

In addition to seeking investment, Orson & Co. is also seeking authors. The company will be bringing to its platform public domain content, back-list content and will be wooing current authors as well.

“Every writer I show it to wants to make work for it,” he said.

The History of a Pleasure Seeker app has been on sale for nearly a month but will begin a public marketing campaign this week. It’s on sale in the Apple app store for $12.99, a price Mason believes values the work accurately and that consumers will not hesitate to pay based on the quality of the product.



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