In 1994, the term ‘audiobook’ was established and the form was popularised. Since the conception of audiobooks, a debate was ignited between the listeners and the readers of the world. Audiobook listeners have been accused of cheating and duly criticised for ‘claiming to read’ long-form fiction and non-fiction. Readers argue that nothing can compare to the sensation of holding a physical book, but can audiobooks unlock new ways in which we can learn on the go? Is maintaining the view that reading is the only right way to consume literature simply archaic? Technology enhances experiences, so why dismiss this with long-form text? 

Audiobook app startup, xigxag (pronounced zigzag), wants to expand horizons with a little bit of innovation and rewrite audio’s unfair stigma. The team firmly believes that audiobooks make learning accessible to a whole audience that may otherwise be shut off from reading, whilst simultaneously enhancing the experience of analogue reading. They recognise the current options don’t provide these options in tandem, so, xigxag set out with the mission to change that. 

Meet the founders of xigxag

“Bear in mind that listening is reading and it's not cheating, and actually spoken word came before the printed word"

— Mark Chaplin, Co-founder of xigxag

Co-founder Keli Fairbrother explains the mission behind their startup: “We’re leading the biggest ever innovation in digital reading and shaping the future books.” They’re doing this through a mobile app and sophisticated content platform, which gives users access to 33,000 titles. She adds, “Our ambition is to make reading more accessible, more engaging, easier and more sustainable.

“I love that we are making our own adventure. So we’re offering people a much needed alternative, or an independent alternative to big tech in UK reading.”

Changing the way books can be enjoyed

So what’s different about xigxag? There are a handful of unique features that you won’t find on traditional platforms. The first noticeable aspect is that xigxag doesn’t make customers sign up to an inflexible subscription model to get a good price. Kelli explains more, “We reward customers for listening more, so they get better prices the more they buy over the course of a year.”

But the thing that really sets xigxag apart from its competitors is that they offer the first ever fully integrated listening and reading experience – and this is where the physical book readers should pay some attention. When you’re listening to a book on xigxag, you’re able to read along, see illustrations, look up words you’re unfamiliar with and even take notes for a fully immersive experience. 

Kelli tells us that her co-founder Mark Chaplin, who built the platform, created a place for you to track all the words you look up in the app to accumulate your own dictionary. Mark explains more, “I’m listening to Stephen Fry book at the moment, and he uses a very wide vocabulary, and so he’ll choose a word that’s probably only been spoken by three people in the last decade or so. But with our solution, you can look it up as well. So you hear it, you go, “What the hell did you just say,” and you can look up the word.

“If we don’t have an definition, you can go to Wikipedia and and it’ll give you the whole etymology of the word. So you can build your vocabulary, even though you’re listening.”

Kelli adds, “We think we’re helping people who are proficient readers enjoy more books and get more out of the books that they’re enjoying, whilst also making books more accessible to people that struggle to read.” Who can argue with that?

Mark thoroughly agrees with this sentiment, telling us, “xigxag wants to make books accessible for everyone, not just the bookworms of the world. We have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips and audiobooks break down the barriers some people have towards reading a physical book.

“Bear in mind that listening is reading and it’s not cheating, and actually spoken word came before the printed word.”

With the busy lives we all lead, even stripped back audiobook listening is a great solution to beginning to enjoy literature, as Mark puts it: “When you’re cleaning or running or sewing or waiting or commuting, then listen, and you’ll get to consume three more books [than if you were physically reading], it’s a revelation.”

Kelli adds to this: “Audiobooks are a brilliant way to recharge a reading habit. I got back into reading after having kids and trying to work and balance at all,” so for Kelli, being able to enjoy books at the same time as doing other things was hugely beneficial. “And, you know, personally listening to an author tell me their own story in their own voice is incredibly magical. I get to listen to Obama talk to me, and that’s just pretty cool.”

Getting public support for audiobooks

The proof is in the pudding, right? xigxag certainly attested that it is providing a highly sought after alternative to the audiobook experience in its £550k crowdfunding campaign. Kelli tells us, “We were really, I think, encouraged and excited by the number of people that came to say something along the lines of, ‘oh, my gosh, I’ve been waiting for somebody to come and do this,’ and ‘I’m so excited about this as a solution,’ you know, ‘these are the problems I have.’ I think was probably the best takeaway.

“For consumer businesses [crowdfunding is just a great opportunity to both attract customers as well as investors.” 

Mark explains one reason why so many people have got behind xigxag’s mission, “It’s really big tech that dominates the audiobook crowd,” and xigxag can be more dynamic as a small business working in this field. “We think that creators should be paid, and customers should be respected. And we’re trying to serve every type of reader with one product,” says Mark. 

Kelli continues on this line of thought: “I think the other thing is these formats really haven’t been innovated in it at least a decade. So in some ways, we’re really the only one that’s driving innovation in something that is really dominated by big tech. And because we’re not big tech, we have the flexibility to do it. I think that’s a cool differentiation point as well.”

xigxag is now looking towards the next steps in growing the business, the platform and the reach of their audiobook offering. They have big ambitions, as Kelli explains, “In some ways, the greatest challenge is what’s possible.

“There is almost too much opportunity versus where we are today. So we’re trying to think about how to stay focused, and what needs to get solved now.” As the team takes it one day at a time, we can’t wait to see what the future holds. In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the enhanced experience of audiobook reading, listening, and learning! Make sure to check out the full interview to find out more about xigxag.

Thanks to Kelli and Mark for taking the time to chat to us about xigxag. You can read more founder stories on our site, such as how HomeLINK is revolutionising housing health through the power of data and IoT and how Amdaris is approaching the tech talent deficit.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.