In the beginning, Huffington Post editors combed top search-engine terms and stories on politics, celebrities, media, and other trending topics. They then had their bloggers retell the stories (in most cases, better than the original version) in the punchier, HuffPo style.
Hyperink is similar. The startup, which launched today, aims to publish books about obscure and niche-specific topics, like "How to Start a Mommy Blog" and "How to Barefoot Run," based on popular searches on Google.
"Around 90 to 95 percent of queries on Google are new and original," says co-founder and CEO Kevin Gao. "Typically, people enter a keyword and then the word 'book.' We look at that data and determine what topics are in high demand."
Don't go pitching your "top search term" book ideas to Hyperink. It will be looking for you.
Unlike other self publishing platforms, such as Amazon.com and Lulu.com, which work directly with authors, Hyperink hires freelance journalists as ghostwriters to interview experts and then write books for them.
That's why the books on Hyperink are mostly nonfiction. Hyperink's experts are covering narrow topics and can crank out a book in less than a month (Gao says quantity and quality are equally important to Hyperink). The authors get help in everything from layout and editing to cover design and marketing.
Hyperink authors get to keep up to 50 percent of sales. That's more than they would earn with traditional books, according to Gao.
There are also shades of Demand Media's original business model of creating content around Google's popular searches. Demand's sites, including eHow, got slammed after Google tweaked its algorithm last spring to weed out content farms. Demand said it wasn't hurt, but has since changed its business model. And the stock has been hammered. So clearly chasing popular search terms to wrap them in content isn't a fool-proof business model.
Lerer, of course, should be well aware of the risks. Then again, HuffPo did sell to AOL for a staggering price. Meanwhile, aspiring authors face a daunting statistic: Gao himself says the average self-published book currently sells about 100 copies in its lifetime.