Here is number two of my new series of interviews with pioneers from the mass customization community (to the first interview). Jan-Christoph Goetze is founder and CEO of PersonalNOVEL, a German mass customization site that allows its customers to create a truly individual book: One in which they and their friends or loved ones are the main actors. On its website Personalnovel.de, the company offers a wide selection of titles, ranging from Romance Novels, Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi to Detective stories.
Personalization is possible for the leading characters, their physical appearance in terms of hair color, eye color and, in the more intimate romance novels, also their perfume and pet names. A personal dedication and a variety of additional attributes, depending on the book, as cars, ships, friends, villains and places contribute to a unique experience. Using latest digital print-on-demand technology, the books are produced by an external partner in paperback, hardcover or even leather cover. Additional features are individualized covers and titles.
Before moving into custom publishing and founding PersonalNOVEL in 2003, Mr. Goetze worked as an architect with Murphy/Jahn in Chicago, Il, Berlin and Munich, after finishing his Master of Architecture at Cornell University, Ihaca, NY.
Mr. Goetze, how did you develop the idea to launch PersonalNovel? Was this your first encounter with mass customization?
Based on several observations, the idea of creating PersonalNOVEL was driven by the goal to let everyone become the star of a book. Another approach was to stress the limits of digital printing and the opportunity to create industrially produced individual copies in volumes of just one book. Exploring the technical limits was also my first encounter with mass customization -- and apparently a lasting one.
Can you describe briefly the process how your books are developed, configured, and produced?
All our featured books are written exclusively for PersonalNOVEL. We developed a guideline how the text is written to have a good balance of personalized and not personalized content. Our authors come from a wide array of backgrounds and have mostly published with other houses as well.
The submitted text will be formatted, proofread and fed into our specifically developed software which allows us to format the books the way the customer has ordered it. The software itself is not only restricted to generating text, but also features our customer relationship management.
Once customers have chosen a title from our vast selection, they enter the questionnaire containing names, characters and so on. While they enter their information, they can read the resulting personalized text in real time. The next remaining five steps allow our customers to configure the book with features like a personal dedication, fonts and binding or cover options.
Our associated print shop prints the formatted books on digital printing equipment every weekday. Paperback books are usually shipped the next day, hardcover and linen books three days later.
What are the achievements with PersonalNovel you are most proud of?
The most exciting aspect about PersonalNOVEL is the high level of customer satisfaction. People seem to be extremely thrilled by reading their name in a completely customized story.
At this point we created a good base of customers, we are providing a reliable and quick customer support, it is fairly easy to generate a book and our quality in content and output is improving more and more – so PersonalNOVEL has become a wonderful source for personalized books.
Due to our good reputation [and a press coverage that should envy every PR manager; FTP] big publishing houses are approaching us. We just signed the first contract with one and are discussing new projects with others.
What are the reasons of your customers to purchase a personalized book? Do you think there are limits of your business due to a novelty effect, meaning that once the idea of a personalized novel is known in the market, the appeal of this product will diminish?
PersonalNOVEL’s books are mainly used as gifts and it is an interesting question what limits our product is facing. I don’t think it has any appeal to the mass market, because it takes quite some effort to generate your own book. PersonalNOVEL might take advantage of a certain novelty effect but I assume we will always have a certain group of customers enjoying the idea.
Are there any other good examples of mass customization in the publishing industry?
And do you see any upcoming trends with regard to new players, technologies, markets, etc. of mass customization in the publishing industry?
Maybe personalized mailings, calendars or postcards as the basic predecessors; but quite frankly I couldn’t think of any, since there aren’t too many applications around anyway.
Since we are currently developing a few new ideas which also might become real products I am sorry to pass on this one. Interesting samples for customized products are the printed versions of Wikipedia or a customized travel guide book.
Why do we have not more customization of books, journals or newspaper yet? It seems to me that, from a technology point of view, this industry is far ahead of others. What prevents companies to exploit the capabilities of digital printing for more customization?
I make a distinction between personalization and mass customization in the publishing industry. Customization configures data according to the profile of the customer, like a Wikipedia encyclopedia about medieval history or a guide book limited to restaurants in Tuscany, both chosen from list of article components in a database. Personalization means to incorporate the customer into the content itself. That’s the reason why a personalized journal or newspaper contradicts its name.
Mass customized print products, weather books or newspapers, share the fate of being produced in small volumes and are rather expensive compared to usual products. Their value to customer is that they fit their customers' interest, while a PersonalNOVEL stars the customer himself.
Another reason could be that for reading newspapers and journals, one might enjoy the wide array of topics being offered compared to a customized product which limits a reader to her selection.
In addition, Publishers that want to offer personalization face a barrier of entry: Their current distribution is limited to bookstores (on- and offline) and they do not have neither customer support nor customer interaction which is crucial in this business. So a publisher would have to enter a new market which is not his core business -- and that’s why he is better advised to work with specialists like our company.
To conclude: What is, in general and beyond your industry, the greatest mass customization offering ever – either one that is already existing or that you would like to get in the future?
If we turn back the pages a couple of centuries we encounter the roots of mass customization: manufacturing and handcrafting. In the old days everything like shoes and shirts were produced by hand and therefore unique. When Gutenberg invented the book press in the 15th century many books, especially bibles and other religious prints, got personalized covers accustomed to their owners like kings, lords and so on. So even 500 years ago a very limited number of people could enjoy customized and personalized books. Our achievement is that today everybody can afford a PersonalNOVEL.
Contact Jan-Christoph Goetze at firstname.lastname@example.org.