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Taking advantage of the convergence of digital printing, advanced computing and networking, Philadelphia-based start-up Xlibris is building a publishing service for fledgling authors snubbed by traditional publishing houses. Its founder's premise: there's a business in becoming extraordinarily efficient at automating book production.
Retracing the steps that led him to launch his own business, John Feldcamp remembers realizing in the mid-1990s that the intersection of digital and printing technologies would have a dramatic impact on publishing: "I saw that there was a clear change that was inevitable- the interesting question was when. . . . We were looking at a kind of creeping digitalization of the whole space. At one end you had ubiquitous digital computing and extremely fluid digital content, and you had an increasing overall set of digital publishing tools available to automate the process."
An unpublished novelist who understood the frustrations aspiring writers face, Feldcamp decided to do something about changing the status quo in commercial book publishing. "There were only two things I really understood," he wryly admitted in a recent interview, "writing and computing. I wanted to start a company, and I wanted it to be something that was actually useful to some degree to human beings. Business-to-business stuff is great, but it's not for me."
The result was Xlibris, a service company that marries Web and print technology to help aspiring authors get their books published. The company's central premise is that every author and every book has a potential audience, even if it's a small one. Make the entry point low enough to attract many authors, and be incredibly efficient about producing printed and electronic books in small quantities, and you have a business.
Feldcamp cofounded the company after working for several years building content production and distribution systems for Okidata Electronics of Japan, where a conservative business model and the realization that his passion was still writing culminated in Xlibris' first ad placed in Writer's Digest in June 1997.
The company flirted with financial doom several times before obtaining a multimillion-dollar investment from Random House Ventures earlier this year, in return for a 49% equity share of the company. Since then the company has mushroomed from a few dozen employees in January to more than 100 currently at the company's offices in downtown Philadelphia.
We spent an afternoon at Xlibris talking with key …