If you’re the kind of person who talks nostalgically about how you used to read novels (you know, before you got busy with work and life, and before you had a million Internet-connected devices to distract you …), there’s an app called Rooster that might be able to help.
Rooster was created by Plympton, a serialized fiction startup co-founded by former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee, novelist Yael Goldstein Love, and Jacqueline Chang (formerly of StumbleUpon). Lee said Rooster will be the company’s flagship product and its consumer brand: “Plympton will largely be a name investors will see at this point.”
The app’s approach is to deliver novels in bite-sized chunks. Each segment should take about 15 minutes to read, and they arrive when you choose, whether it’s every morning before work; every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; or whatever. There are two books offered every month — a contemporary title and a classic novel that’s supposed to offer “a conversational counterpoint.”
The idea is to eliminate many of the things that can make it intimidating to pick up a new book. Instead of confronting you with (physical or digital) shelves full of choices, Rooster compares its curated approach to the recommendations provided by independent bookstores. And instead of making you wonder whether you can actually finish a 500-page doorstop of a novel, with Rooster you just have to focus on reading the next installment.
For the first few months, Rooster is partnering with publishers to offer the contemporary book, while the classic will come from the public domain. However, Goldstein Love said that won’t always be the case. She also said Rooster plans to expand beyond two books a month, for example by adding selections from different genres.
The big question is whether people actually want to read this way. Don’t they want to get caught up in a page-turner, the same way they seem to want to binge-watch TV? When discussing serialized fiction, everyone likes to bring up Charles Dickens, but, well, his success came well over a century ago. I’ve written about how publishers are starting to experiment with episodic storytelling again, and that’s something I enjoy, but I still wonder how broad the audience might be.
Goldstein Love pointed out that while Rooster is designed for reading in installments, if you really get caught up in the story and don’t want to wait, there’s an option to read the next section immediately. She added:
Rooster is all about making reading fiction as convenient and flexible as possible, so we want people to have the flexibility to create their own reading habits within the Rooster service. But even if everyone binges (which we don’t think they will) the serialization still eases them into tackling a title. Think about how we watch shows on Netflix (most of us, anyway). Rarely will you sit down and say, “Now I will watch 5 hours of Breaking Bad.” Because who thinks they have five hours? If someone told you this was a 5-hour viewing experience you’d say, “Not for me, sorry.” But one hour seems easy and healthy and if it leads to five so be it.
Plympton/Rooster has raised less than $1 million in angel funding. Investors include husband-and-wife Susan Danziger and Albert Wenger (Wenger is also a partner at Union Square Ventures), who became involved through the acquisition of their email fiction service DailyLit, as well as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, Y Combinator partner Garry Tan, Delicious founder Joshua Schachter, Hipmunk founder Adam Goldstein, Inkling founder Matt MacInnis, Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu (author of “The Master Switch”), Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever, Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund, and others.
The company says upcoming authors include Julia Glass, Adam Haslett, Chang-Rae Lee, Molly Antopol, and Alan Lightman. After a two-week trial period, the app will cost $4.99 per month. You can already download it here, although the plan is to start opening up accounts tomorrow.