Rooster is a new curated subscription reading service for the smartphone that makes great fiction a seamless part of daily life. The app recommends great books to you every month and then delivers them in bite-sized installments designed to be read in just 15 minutes. It’s a smartphone-tailored reading experience that works with your schedule.
Jennifer Lee CEO @ Rooster
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44% of general population interested in Rooster
Library of top award-winning authors
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Look around any doctor’s office waiting room, subway car or post office and you’ll see almost every head bent over a smartphone — most scanning Facebook or fixed on a game of Angry Birds. Few people kill time with a quality work of fiction.
“We’re saying you can take all of those minutes that feel like the throwaway minutes of your day, and you can use them to enter into a completely immersive reading experience,” says novelist Yael Goldstein Love. “Reading can be a part of your life again.”
Making fiction fit into an on-the-go lifestyle is the goal of digital publisher Plympton, founded by Goldstein Love with her friend from college, Jennifer 8. Lee, author, former New York Times reporter and Plympton CEO. The pair know good writing and want to bring the way we read it into the 21st Century.
How it works
After partnering with Amazon to produce some of the first titles in the Kindle Serials program, Plympton has just launched their mobile reading app, Rooster. The app curates content for readers, recommending a couple of books each month—a solution for those overwhelmed by too many titles. A contemporary work is paired with a classic novel, and both can be sent in short installments to users’ phones each day. It’s free to download, and readers can sample the first installment of any work. Those who want to keep reading will pay a $4.99 monthly membership fee.
The installment format is a throwback to the serialized fiction of the 19th century, Lee says. The approach will challenge writers to create stories that fit the new style of publishing — and hopefully generate the type of anticipation that surrounds good TV.
“One of the things that we’re really excited about doing is bringing the ‘Breaking Bad’ or the ‘House of Cards’ of fiction,” she says. “When the book comes out, people read their installments, and then they talk about it, and then they wait for the next installment to come. Part of what we’re doing with Rooster is allowing that kind of reading experience: that’s not fixed on a printed page, that can be ongoing, that is part of your daily life.”
Lee and Goldstein Love teamed up with Plympton co-founder and CTO Jacqueline Chang, a former Stumbleupon research engineer and MIT computer science grad. Chang has been solving problems with technology since college, but as an avid high school reader who lost the habit, she can personally relate to the issue Rooster tackles.
“Part of my identity is that I’m a reader,” Chang says. “It was pretty dramatic for me to realize at some point that I didn’t read anymore. It’s a little horrifying. It’s a problem that’s very dear to my heart because of that.”
As author of the successful “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,” Lee sees a chance for Rooster to help writers connect with their readers and get feedback more quickly than in the traditional publishing world. Eventually Plympton will track information for authors so they’ll know what keeps readers engaged.
Helping people rediscover reading won’t just be good for authors — or commuters. Plympton’s founders think it could drastically benefit society.
“I think fiction makes us all better people,” Goldstein Love says. “Fiction is the only time that we really really try to know what it’s like to be other people. … It changes our political views. I think it changes how we think about our place in the world, what we owe to other people. I think it’s just morally and civically transformative.”
What's new about what you're making? How is it different?
The biggest barriers to reading more is lack of time, shorter attention spans and overwhelming choice. We don't think you should have to search through thousands of books to find something great to read. Like a trusted friend who always has great recommendations, we take the guesswork out of choosing your next read with an experience tailored for smartphones and hectic schedules.
How big is the market?
We're not just targeting current readers. Our hope is to reach the 600+ million smartphone users around the world.
Who are your competitors? How are you different?
At first glance, it may seem like our main competitors are new digital book distributors like Oyster or Scribd. But we view casual games, blogs and social media—basically anything that people go to on their smartphones to fill up free moments — as our bigger challengers.
What do you understand about your business that others just don't get?
The book is an outdated delivery model for content. Yet the current digital reading experience continues to be defined by the book. We believe that books are not the future of fiction. The future is digital serial delivery. It's content that fits into your own schedule, arrives in easily digestible installments and is tailored for smartphones. Casual gaming made everyone a gamer. Casual reading will make everyone a reader.
What's your biggest risk? What keeps you up at night?
We're only as good as our content, and fiction is a notoriously subjective business. We're taking a risk hoping that people love the same stuff we do.
How will you make money?
Our business model is based on subscriptions. Monthly memberships cost $4.99. We also expect additional revenue from content licensing deals with partners.
How do you acquire customers?
Rooster will be invitation only during our initial launch period. We are relying on a combination of press, word-of-mouth via influencers, social media, SEO and on-the-ground invitation distribution at events to drive momentum. We will also tap our existing DailyLit (which merged with Plympton in spring 2013) mailing list of 150,000 and seek creative marketing strategies through affinity partners. We later plan to explore various advertising levers.
Why is your team awesome? Why you?
We are the only team with a powerful combination of editorial, technological and partnership-building skills in our founding team that is distinctive and necessary to build a high-quality reading platform from scratch — both in terms of product and content. Our library already includes works from a National Book Award winner, two National Book Award finalists, a Pulitzer finalist, and a PEN/Hemingway award winner.
What is your next milestone?
Rooster launches on March 11 in the iOS App Store. Next steps in our roadmap include an Android app, additional content verticals (sci-fi, mystery, romance) and internationalization.
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