America's Coolest College Start-ups 2011
ONLINE TOOLS AND SOFTWARE

Simplifying Cross-Platform Digital Book Publishing

University of Northern Iowa junior Nick Cash wanted digital computer science books. So he developed a user-friendly self-publishing system that distributes across e-reader platforms.
 The Publishing Hacker : University of Northern Iowa's Nick Cash.

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The Publishing Hacker: University of Northern Iowa's Nick Cash.

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Nick Cash began studying computer science and programming in early high school, when he enrolled in college software engineering courses to supplement what his public school offered. By his junior year at the University of Northern Iowa, he was ready to try something new. "The idea was to take one fun class, one class that was entirely different from my computer science and economics double-major."

His idea of "fun?" Financial Essential for Entrepreneurs.

Cash, whose grandfather was an entrepreneur, and whose father was a creative inventor, was assigned to draw up mock financials for a new business. "The only one idea I had came from thinking: 'How do I self-publish an e-book?' In my computer classes, the books were all really terrible, and on paper of course, which means the actual code wasn't on the computer where it's useful." Also, he was in Iowa, where the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa has infused the state culture with a literary bent. Plenty of e-readers already existed, so Cash set out to develop a user-friendly self-publishing system that could take a formatted digital book and publish it across all e-reader platforms.

Cash spent a great deal of the next five months doing the back-end programming, solo. While he's proud of his engineering work, he sees himself as more of an author-advocate, attempting to reduce the "technical burden" of digitally publishing a work. He's is dreaming for the day he can spend his time building the Book Hatchery through meeting with writers and editors.

"I like software, and I started programming when I was in 8th grade, and my first website was made in 6th grade," he says. "But the most fulfilling part of the job is going out and talking to the authors."

The Book Hatchery has published a dozen books, for the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, since a soft launch in October to do technical testing. Most revenue has come so far from a 15 percent share of royalties the Book Hatchery gleans (authors get 85 percent), and fees from a premium publishing model, which gives authors more assistance, a larger share of royalties, and an ISBN.

Cash is working with a small team—his brother, the system administrator, a friend in Seattle, and a few other students—and is meeting with local Iowa angel investors with hopes to expand the Book Hatchery.

"Really, we want to get the funding in place so that we can hire the right people to do more development," he says. "I'd like to spend more time with the authors so I can see what they want and what we can do for them."

Last updated: Mar 1, 2011

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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