Odyl Launches Facebook Platform for Authors and Publishers

9/13/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Just one month after New York-based Buddy Media raised a remarkable $54 million to support its Facebook-management platform for consumer brands, another Big Apple company has started up with a Facebook marketing solution—this one for the book industry. Odyl, founded by veterans of HotJobs, rolled out a software platform today that’s designed to help publishers and authors connect with readers.

I was particularly interested to sit down with Odyl’s co-founder and CEO, Michael Taylor (pictured above), a few days before the official launch. That’s because I’m an author, and suffice it to say, I failed miserably to find an audience on Facebook for my book about the anti-aging industry, Selling the Fountain of Youth (Basic Books 2010). When I met with the Buddy Media folks in August, I learned that more than 200 brands were using the company’s software to put up impressively flashy Facebook pages—and attract thousands of consumers to them—in a relatively low-stress way. I kept thinking, “Someone should offer a product like this for book publishers.”

And now someone has done just that. Odyl, founded in late 2010, is marketing a software package that’s designed to make it easy for publishers and/or individual authors to put excerpts and reviews of their books on Facebook, along with special features, such as giveaways, reader quizzes, and rewards for fans. Major publishers such as HarperCollins, Penguin Group, and Random House have already tried the product. The parent company of my publisher, Perseus, is an early customer, as are authors Katie Couric, Suze Orman, and Janet Evanovich.

Taylor declined to reveal how much the company has raised in seed funding, except to say that angel financing was provided by John Corcoran, founder and CEO of Trinity Partners, a Waltham, MA-based life sciences consulting company. Odyl is taking in revenues from licensing fees, which range from $250 a month to $1,000 depending on the customer, Taylor says.

Taylor gave me a demo at Odyl’s platform at the company’s small offices in Soho. He pulled up the Facebook page for Harper Teen’s paranormal series Pitch Dark. The page includesa sweepstakes for an advance copy of the latest book, quizzes, and author chats. Odyl’s platform, Taylor says, “makes it very easy to drag-and-drop images.” The software also makes it possible for publishers to interact directly with readers. “You need something for people to do in order for the book to be something to talk about,” Taylor says. The Pitch Dark page, for example, includes quizzes with titles like “How much trouble do you like to provoke?” and “How far would you go to fit in?” To participate, fans must click the “like” button—which is clearly a good way to get traffic for a popular brand on Facebook, seeing as the Pitch Dark page has 104,161 fans.

Compare that to the page for my book, which has a measly 48 fans, most of whom are friends and family. Taylor explains that when you design a page using Facebook’s native tools, it’s hard to produce much beyond what he calls “brochure-level” marketing. Indeed, my page has little more than a picture of the book cover, a summary, and a biography. I do have a wall, but it’s mostly just pulling in the posts from a separate website I maintain from the book. Apparently I can link my Twitter account to it, too, but Facebook keeps changing the site around, so now I can’t figure out how to do that. All in all, an author left on her own to try to find fans on Facebook doesn’t get much except for a huge hassle—and a page that’s not so eye-catching because it looks pretty much like everything else on Facebook.

And as any author will tell you, if you’re not already a best-selling author or, say, Katie Couric, your publisher is going to leave it up to you to do most of the marketing for your own book. That’s why Odyl’s product was designed to be simple enough for non-techies to use, Taylor says. “We like to say an eight-year-old needs to be able to do this,” Taylor says. Publishers can manage all their titles through the platform, or they can pass along access to individual authors to manage their own book pages, he says.

Individual authors can also go straight to Odyl to get access to the software, though Taylor is the first to admit that even the low end of the current pricing tier might be a bit out-of-reach for starving authors. “Our intention is to be able to provide more affordable rates for authors,” he says.

Taylor and two of his co-founders were among the first employees of HotJobs, the career site that Yahoo bought for $436 million in 2001. (Monster bought the unit from Yahoo in 2010 for $225 million.) “We built software that could serve as a workstation for recruiters to come to and do their jobs. That scaled to over 10,000 customers,” he says. Odyl is sort of the same idea, he says, except that it’s a workstation for book marketers.

As for the company’s whimsical name, Taylor points out that it is an actual word. “Odyl” was coined in the 1800s by German scientist Baron Karl von Reichenbach, who used it to describe a hypothetical force that he believed connected natural phenomena such as magnetism and light. “It’s a bit obscure, but I thought it was a great word for a social-media venture,” Taylor says. “If you look at publishers, what they need is not to spend a lot of time on any one book, but a digital solution that can handle thousands of products.”

Odyl came along too late for my anti-aging book, which continues to languish on Facebook. (My most recent posting about an appearance on a radio show got just 28 impressions. Pretty sad.) I think it’s fair to guess that authors everywhere are going to be praying their publishers give Odyl a shot.

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