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MARKETPLACE: Aerbook CEO Ron Martinez Explains How Work Experiences and Technology Paved the Way for Social Publishing Platform

First Posted: Feb 04, 2015 07:13 PM EST
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Ron Martinez

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"Marketplace" is a Latin Post feature profile series about Latino entrepreneurs who have successfully turned their ideas into thriving enterprises. From unsung startups to prominent businesses, we spotlight the dynamic men and women who founded them.

Ron Martinez, founder and CEO of Aer.io Retail and the social publishing and e-commerce platform Aerbook, did not become an entrepreneur on a whim, or through a 'lightbulb' moment.

The success is a culmination of incremental gains in experience and the evolution of technology.

He worked as a busboy, as a writer, a commercial shell fisherman, a cabbie, a factory worker, a book packager, a game developer, a financial software developer, and as a patent expert while establishing his career identity. And from that, he managed to integrate his sorted interests, creating a web tool that is like no other.

Aerbook engages savvy book lovers who utilize Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, and the platform helps them to make quick in-app purchases of books, graphic novels, DVDs and so much more. Likewise, the platform helps authors engage their audience, and easily promote and sale merchandise via social media, effectively strengthening social connections and softening disconnect between the author and the reader.

"I began building Aerbook with an original focus on integrative illustrated books, and wanted to use tools that artists, writers and creators could use without writing any code. Aerbook was first implemented in that way," Martinez said to Latin Post.

"You can build an interactive, illustrated book media and go online in your browser without writing any code. And then we simplified and streamlined that, and then I got it into my head that I wanted to model all the aspect of the publishing industry, except for the editorial side ... because that's a certain kind of magic that's not susceptible to technology."

Born into a tradition of manual labor and sidebar intellectual pursuit, his dependence on books opened up a new world to him and made all the difference. Martinez was raised in the Bronx, New York, by his Italian-American mother and his Mexican-American father (reared in Celaya Guanajato, Mexico, and amid the cotton-grabbing migrant camps of Texas).

His father, a fan of enduring self-education, had no more than an elementary school education. Nonetheless, he frequently told Martinez the importance of education and finding understandings wherever they may be, to conquer any challenge.

For a short time, Martinez worked at the restaurant at the base of the Empire State building alongside his father, who was employed there for 40 years, before Martinez set off to adopt Arthur C. Clarke stories into computer games and help to create the interactive game, Hidden Agenda.

Martinez stopped coding, however, and started inventing. He got very interested in patents as "an abstract but tangible form of value that created worth through a very humble expression." And he created seminal patents, including ones for virtual property and audible digital objects, which are routinely seen in games and in-app purchases and so on. His ownership of 50-plus patents is a testament to his commitment to patenting and virtual product development.

"You have to imagine what the future will be and patent around that. And you have to know exactly what's happening, and extrapolate an outcome. Someone once said, 'If you show a gun in Act One, it's going to be used in Act Three,'" Martinez said. "Technology advances. If we see something now, we'll see it again, in Act Three... in about five years. So, that's the process, dramatic foreshadowing of future development. So, to bring it full circle, my first love is the book. ... It's always been the book."

That love for books pushed him to develop the virtual network and e-commerce site Aerbook, which offers playlists, groupings, author lists, blurbs and links. The sharable previews make selling on social networks -- within any social stream or app -- possible so that people can immediately read a book and enjoy it.

"It works the same way as finding a cat video on Twitter or Facebook and share that immediately. Before, a book and the content of a book wasn't as available because books haven't been set up as a social object the way a BuzzFeed post is a social object," Martinez said. "[The Aerbook links are] equipped with all the material around it, allowing it to express and show certain previews. And you immediately own a book when you tap on it and buy it."

Aerbook's socialization of literature will have an incredible impact on traditional and digital publishing, empowering many aspiring and established authors by helping them to put their books in front of readers. The concept functions contrary to hyper-concentrated large retailers like Amazon. Aerbook offers direct-to-consumer publishing and allows readers to connect with authors. And that's one thing that larger publishers cannot do.

Aer.io, Martinez's latest venture, directly addresses the distribution marketplace. The retail network will allow users to make virtual bookstores, curate the products and generate revenue, as well as offer recommendations. Instead of purchasing from large retailers, media lovers can endorse small business storefronts on Aer.io... and they can make their own stores.

Aer.io makes it possible for individuals or organizations to create a store, get opt-in customer relations and curate a selection of products, books, DVDs, graphic novels and more from a catalog of 2 million. The store can be shared in a simple link, and it can be embedded as easily as a Youtube video. Also, the economics of selling books are, in effect, made transparent.

"Every book you put in, we show what the wholesale price is, what the minimum cost of the sale is, what the list price is, and the cost of the book plus the shipping and handling, so you can discount all the way down and make no profits, Or you can sell it at list price," Martinez said.

"You can discount it lower than Amazon, because they don't do the same deep discounts for all books, just the best sellers. So, you have power that you never had before. You could even charge considerably more for books if you were doing it for fundraising. ... And there's a lot going on that front."

Aerbook is a company that empowers readers and authors, while Aer.io essentially produces more small businesses to be owned by avid media consumers. Selling as an affiliate earns users a referral fee because the seller must request permission to access email and contacts to create a relationship. Aer.io offers all tools to turn a media user into a retailer, and all the products can be sold on social media. 

"You see things you can buy, but anything you see on Aer.io that you want to sell, you can do that by creating your own store," said Martinez. "That goes back directly to who I am and who we are as a company. We all believe this makes widely available, in a democratized way, the fruits of our knowledge and culture, so we can teach ourselves and help fund cultural efforts."

In building Aer.io, Martinez's biggest revelation as a reader was the unique identity of books belonging to publishers, particularly mid-range and independent publishers. During the project's development, he discovered a whole new range of publishers and authors who he wouldn't have discovered otherwise. By flattening the architecture of book selling and the selling of literature and books, he's made literature more sharable and much more social.

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