PaperC auctions itself to fund HTML5 textbooks

The world of academic publishing is in the middle of a shake-up right now, not only because of the shift towards open data and the Elsevier fiasco, but also because — well, put simply — all publishing is in flux. Call it the Kindle-slash-iBooks effect.
But now a German company called PaperC is trying something new. It’s running with the idea of try-before-you-buy textbooks and taking it further by offering users not just the chance to buy a whole book, but also a particular chapter or even just a page.
Soon it plans to add a monthly subscription option that gives unlimited access.
The idea of buying a single page may sound odd, but it makes a lot of sense in the context of textbooks, where readers often don’t need the whole manuscript. And PaperC’s approach to free previews is similarly sensible: where Amazon (s AMZN) shows you the opening chapter or two, this startup lets its users choose which 10 percent of the book they’d like to see without paying (they have a time limit on how long they can look).
PaperC has a search engine and a web reader that allows annotations and sharing, and has partnered with Sony on optimizing its tablet experience. Most importantly, the Leipzig-based firm already has 120,000 registered users and around 100 content deals with publishers like O’Reilly, Pearson, Wiley and others.
“PaperC is not only a bookstore but a library, offering its users a full suite of tools to facilitate their research,” international content manager Bill Glucroft told me, adding that while PaperC’s market so far is in German-speaking countries and eastern Europe, more than half the service’s content is in English.
All sounds fine so far, but here’s an extra twist: the company’s looking for more funding, which it hopes to obtain through an auction-based crowdfunding platform called Innovestment that’s quite interesting in itself.
Here’s the pitch (in German with English subtitles):
PaperC hopes to raise between €50,000 – €100,000 ($61,000 – $123,000). With the campaign already underway for a week, it has already amassed almost €16,000 through the sale of 14 silent shares – with each share representing 0.04 percent equity, the auction currently has the company’s total valuation at €2.6 million.
But hold up. Investors won’t be getting a share of the existing platform, which is based on PDF technology. They’ll be buying into, its HTML5-based successor (shades of Inkling). This is a bet on future value, rather than a chance to get a chunk of what already exists.
“We need additional resources to continue acquiring high-quality content from major, international publishers,” Glucroft said. “Moreover, we want our from-scratch-built HTML5 platform to be the best platform out there for buying, reading and working with academic eBooks. That means giving it the same set of interactive and study-friendly features that our PDF-based platform at already has, and having the ability to convert PDFs of our choosing to ePub, so they can be compatible with”
PaperC is also working on raising its profile with U.S. and Canadian universities, he added.
The company fits into two notable strands of the Berlin scene: the e-reading bunch, as typified by Readmill and Txtr, and the academia-facing likes of ResearchGate.