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Volker Oppmann, self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur”, man of conviction and voracious reader. In 2017, he created a platform that not only wants to bring reading on the Internet together in one place, but also strives to create a “democratic alternative“ to the big platforms. What does he mean? How does the mojoreads model work?
CCB Magazin: Hello Volker, your homepage says that Mojoreads is a platform for literature that unites community, reading and shopping. How does that work exactly? What’s happening?
Volker Oppmann: mojoreads is a platform for readers on which the books and articles recommended are directly available via the platform. But of course authors and publishers can also promote their content directly on mojoreads. However, without paid placements aka advertising. We want to create a genuine social, i.e. democratic platform that is independent of large corporations.
CCB Magazin: “Facebook is civilised, Amazon is idealistic“ - that’s your claim. But, realistically, is there any real chance of being an alternative here? Everyone uses the big platforms.
Volker Oppmann: Of course there’s an opportunity. Even the big ones once started small. And we don’t expect that to happen overnight. The key question is rather how we as a society want to communicate with each other. In classical antiquity, people met and talked to each other on the public marketplace. For ancient Greeks this was Agora, for the Romans it was the Forum. This function of a public forum has been fulfilled in the last 500 years primarily by print media such as newspapers and books. Digitalisation has fundamentally changed this.
We want to create a genuine social, i.e. democratic platform that is independent of major corporations: Authors and publishers earn on mojoreads directly through the sales generated via the platform - and all that without advertising.
CCB Magazin: Several decades ago, Jürgen Habermas spoke of a structural change in the public sphere, the beginning of which he saw in the middle of the 18th century, when a first “bourgeois public sphere“ emerged - at that time still quite “analogous” to the café houses of France, later also to Germany. Are we currently experiencing a new “digital” structural change in the public sphere, which is putting it to the test again? Namely the possibility of social participation, freedom of expression and democracy?
Volker Oppmann: To be sure! Today, public discourse has shifted to the net, above all to the social networks. The problem: Most of the attention there - controlled by advertising algorithms – is given not to those with the better argument, but the ones that generate more clicks - because they polarise more strongly and/or combine the larger advertising budget behind it. This goes hand in hand with a distortion of public perception and consequently of political opinion formation, which undermines our free democratic social order. Brexit, Trump and populists of all stripes are great examples of this. What we therefore need is a new digital marketplace in the tradition of the Greek Agora, a place that offers a public forum to the much-quoted poets and thinkers of our society instead of some artificial reach.
CCB Magazin: For years, an endless discussion has been about how artists on the platforms can be sufficiently compensated for their work. How do you pay the people who create content on Mojoreads?
Volker Oppmann: Authors and publishers earn on mojoreads directly from the sales generated by the platform. But of course, reviews, blog posts and even the shortest posts also have a value - and they all contribute to books or journalistic content being distributed and thus bought. That’s why our users earn 10 per cent of the purchase price for every sale they inspire. In addition, we are currently working on a payment model for content generated directly on the platform - whether by self-publishers or journalists who use our editor to post their articles or texts directly with us.
We need a new digital marketplace in the tradition of the Greek Agora. Most of the attention on the net - controlled by advertising algorithms – I given not to those with the better argument, but the ones who generate more clicks –because they polarise more strongly and/or combine the larger advertising budget behind them. For this we need new models
CCB Magazin: And how can one earn money doing that?
Volker Oppmann: Our revenue model is called paid content, which means we earn from every financial transaction on the platform. Platt said: At the moment we are still a very classic online retailer who lives from his trading margin. In perspective, however, we want to make mojoreads a real marketplace where everyone can offer content and where we are “just“ the enablers.
CCB Magazin: Amazon or Facebook live from the perfection of their algorithms; people find what they want to find in no time at all. How exactly do you propose to create an alternative here? People usually only switch from one corner to the other if they don’t feel any disadvantages there.
Volker Oppmann: In this instance I would like to differentiate between the advertising algorithms of Facebook and the suggestion algorithms used by Amazon. Advertising in the sense of purchased reach and thus also manipulation of attention does not occur here. The suggestion algorithms of Amazon on the other hand are usually already very good. But initially, especially, we are focussing less on machine intelligence than on human intelligence and integrity, because the best recommendations still come from personal friends and acquaintances - or from those who know their way around. A key term is “curating”. We want to develop a platform for these people. And, of course, the literature they recommend - because in the end it’s all about reading.
We also have growth targets: In 20 years’ time, we want to be the central point of contact for literature on the Internet. But we also say: It’s better to grow more slowly and thus more sustainably than too quickly and thereby violate our own fundamental values.
CCB Magazin: Let’s suppose you grow continuously over the next few years. How big can a platform like mojoreads become in order to preserve its independence and not violate its initial goals?
Volker Oppmann: This has less to do with size than with orientation - i.e. the question of which principles are used to make decisions in the company. Roughly speaking, everything can be broken down into the question “head or toe“. Is it my primary goal from which everything else is derived, i.e. a financial figure and thus a maximum profit for the owners of the company? Or is our ultimate goal a maximum gain in understanding and knowledge in the minds of our readers? So do I optimise my business processes and algorithms in the direction of profit maximisation and thus accept that truth and cognition fall by the wayside somewhere? Or do I optimise everything in the sense of a humanistic educational ideal, but then I have to accept that our financial profits are lower - which doesn’t mean, however, that one would not be profitable. Because, of course, we also have growth targets, because only with the necessary reach can we actually have social relevance.
CCB Magazin: What do these goals look like?
Volker Oppmann: Our clear goal is to be the central point of contact for literature on the Internet in 20 years’ time. So we’d rather grow more slowly and thus more sustainably than too quickly and thereby violate our fundamental values. Capital must always be a means to an end, never an end in itself. For this reason, we are not an exit-driven start-up, but a mission-driven business. And to keep it that way, we’re supported by a non-profit association that ensures that we remain true to the values and goals formulated in our self-commitment.
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