We interviewed one half of the team behind book-themed apparel company and new app Litsy, Todd Lawton. We spoke to him about new manifestations of literary appreciation, how readers are choosing to enter conversations about books, and what to keep as a priority when starting a business.
1. You and your business partner, Jeff LeBlanc, have launched a new app called Litsy, said to be ‘Instagram for booklovers’. Before this, you set up a book-themed t-shirt and merchandise company called Out of Print. Did either of your professional backgrounds influence the decisions to approach literary appreciation through these unconventional mediums? Why is there a market for such things?
We’re industry outsiders; just people who love to read. We focus on the lifestyle of and passion for reading, not the product. The second best thing about reading a book is talking about it. Out of Print and Litsy exist to help people share the joy and magic of reading.
2. There is a sizeable book appreciation community on Instagram, a small group of which we profiled in a past newsletter. Was this growing community part of your motivation to create a separate entity for this category of social media sharing? What will this separation mean for your app’s new following?
Seeing readers opt for Instagram and other social channels to have book conversations validated our belief that the market wanted something like Litsy. At the same time, we felt that some book conversations were still not happening. Review-based online book communities miss out on the spontaneous moments that happen around books (Litsy emphasises sharing book moments, not just reviews). Book posts on jack-of-all-social communities like Facebook and Twitter seemed a bit random and primary topic of the post (the book) is often forgotten. Our idea for Litsy was to combine the delight and reward from general social communities with the usefulness of a book-specific experience and design.
Litsy has sharing options to other social network accounts. Readers are using Litsy as the place to start book conversations and then share out to other channels. It’s become a central hub for all bookish moments.
3. In terms of posting on the app, users have the option of posting a short comment, a quote or a review. From what you’ve observed so far, what appears to be the most popular aspect amongst users?
We’re thrilled to witness that our initial belief that readers want to share more than just final book reviews has been proven true. Two-thirds of all posts on Litsy are non-review post types, and these non-review posts have much higher engagement.
4. Do you think the concepts of your companies would have worked ten years ago? Or were your companies inspired by a noted resurgence in book appreciation?
I personally think Out of Print and Litsy would have worked but not in the same way. There’s a community movement behind the written word that didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. We feel very fortunate to be doing what we’re doing, when we’re doing it.
5. Do you have any advice for those looking to introduce a tech start-up in the centuries-old industry of publishing?
Learned from my three year old daughter – incessantly ask “why?” and be 100% satisfied with your answer before moving forward. At the end of the day, your vision is the only thing that matters.
6. What and who are some of your favourite books and book industry experts?
- Favourite book found free on the street – The Bell Jar (Found in Park Slope, Brooklyn)
- Favourite recently-read non-fiction – Ship of Gold
- Much-hyped recent fiction that completetly lived up – All the Light We Cannot See
- Book I would take with me to a deserted island – Homer’s Odyssey
- Most moving novel – A Fine Balance
- Book recommended to me while on a recent trip that I still need to read – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (trip was to Malawi)
- Favourite book cover designer – Alvin Lustig
- Favourite illustrator – Edward Gorey
- Favourite book I remember reading in high school – Invisible Man
- Book that I had the lowest expectations for and highest reward – Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl