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NC IDEA announced its Fall 2014 grant winners on December 8, 2014. This piece is part of a series of stories on the five winners.

A few years ago when I was gifted my first iPad and began using the Kindle app to read e-books, I was really excited to learn there were so many free and discounted e-books to download and read. After hours of sifting through the selection, I chose a few free books and a discounted one. But one chapter into a discounted book, I realized neither the book nor the genre interested me—I never finished the book. I had no better luck with the free books I downloaded either. With a lot of time down the tubes, I quickly swore off searching for free and reduced-price e-books. 

Freebooksy—a startup in Carrboro, N.C.—is designed to solve both the problems I faced while searching for free and reduced-price books and help authors and their work get discovered. Founder Ricci Wolman says that “Freebooksy helps people who love to read find free and discounted books for their Kindle, Nook, iPad or Kobo.” 

In the increasingly competitive e-book market, the platform also helps authors and their works get discovered. Authors are connected to readers when readers sign up on freebooksy.com to receive notifications of free books available for download in their favorite genres (Romance, Mystery, Non-Fiction etc.). The same service, but for discounted e-books (under $5.00), is available on the sister site, BargainBooksy.com

Founded in 2012 as an experimental project and small blog incubated inside Agile Marketing Group, Wolman’s marketing agency, Freebooksy is now a company in its own right. Wolman started Freebooksy when she was helping her mom—an author—market her new book. She realized she could use her data-driven, online marketing expertise to build an audience for her mom and other authors like her. 

Freebooksy Team 2014
From left to right: Chloe Kizer, Taylor Coil, Ricci Wolman, Ferol Vernon

With over 175,000 registered readers and a Facebook audience of nearly 200,000 fans, the company has clearly found an audience and growing market niche. In fact, according to the Pew Research Internet Project, 28 percent of American adults read at least one e-book in 2013. As the number of e-book readers grow, so will the need for an author-book-reader matching service like Freebooksy, Wolman figures.

Poised to fill that need, Freebooksy plans to use the NC IDEA funds to expand its proprietary advertising and distribution platform to help authors and publishers reach readers. The company already has five full-time employees and plans to grow aggressively over the next six to 12 months.

The company hasn't raised any funding prior to NC IDEA. It generates revenue by charging fees to authors in exchange for a feature in Freebooksy's daily email to readers. Today, the number of books an author sells is directly correlated to their ranking on sites like Amazon, Wolman says. The higher the ranking, the more books they sell. To help get their books ranked, authors often reduce the price or offer an e-book free for a short amount of time to ensure a spike in sales. That leads to more sales at full-price in the following days. Authors are willing to pay Freebooksy to feature their books because the company ensures that sales increase on and following promotional days. 

Wolman promises more product development with the NC IDEA award in hand, along with "some exciting initiatives as early as this spring," she says.