San Francisco–based Tapas Media, founded in 2012 by Chang Kim, offers bite-size content through an online mobile platform. Its first venture, Tapastic, a webcomics site providing access to more than 16,000 creators and 270,000 individual comics, is the leading online publishing platform and community for comics. Tapastic counts one million active readers, primarily in North America, 90% of whom are under the age of 34.
The company’s newest product is Tapas, a mobile app and marketplace that takes the company’s model of providing content in small amounts and applies it to literary content. The app uses the “freemium” business model—offering some content to consumers for free as an incentive to pay to get more—that has proven successful in the mobile gaming market and brings it to the mobile reading market. Readers are able start books and other stories for free, and then pay to unlock subsequent episodes, or pay for the entire book or story, with prices based on the books’ current market value. Essentially, it’s Candy Crush for books.
Tapas, available on iOS and Android, provides a range of media (all literary at the moment), from books to comics, created by professional writers, all in the form of what Tapas refers to as “bite-sized micro chapters,” or episodes, of 2,000 to 4,000 words. In addition to the freemium model, it enlists a user-engagement model, with features such as rewards for peer-to-peer sharing.
According to Tapas Media, 10%–20% of each title is offered for free on the app, either in the form of unlocked episodes or as rewards for reengagement, creating what Tapas executives believe to be an effective sample preview. Tapas Media works with publishing partners through all the stages, from determining episode segmentation to setting target price. Tapas Media reports that its sister company, KakaoPage, has already proven this new publishing model to be very successful in Korea, with authors of top performing titles taking home $90,000 or more per month using the KakaoPage book app. Though the Tapas can be accessed by readers of all ages, the company believes that young female readers will be most likely to use the app.
One reason for entering the book market is that the company believes this digestible format makes consuming books easier during times when phone use is heavy but limited to short periods, such as while commuting or running errands.
Kim, CEO of Tapas Media, who formerly worked as a product manager at Google and was in charge of Samsung’s mobile content strategy, said, “We’re trying to apply the proven business model and user-engagement model from the mobile gaming world to reading. If there’s one industry that’s figured out how to monetize content and engage users on mobile, it’s really the gaming industry.” Citing Candy Crush as an example, Kim notes that each stage of the game is around “three to five minutes of play time. We’re trying to mimic that.” Each piece of reading on Tapas is geared toward that window of time, in what Kim calls “a small unit of story.” He believes that this will fulfill consumers looking for narrative content on mobile devices. “We optimize content for those use cases.”
The Tapas app is currently in open beta, though the company is about to release an updated launch version this week. Once the free portion of a book or comic is read, consumers have the option to purchase access to the rest of the story by buying keys, which are an in-app Tapas currency that will unlock content. Keys, said Joshua Bakken, Tapas’s senior director of growth, are linked to each story, and authors are paid monthly based on how many keys are purchased, not whether the keys are actually used.
Although Bakken said it is difficult to determine the average amount a consumer pays per episode (in part because a larger book tends to mean less expensive episodes), he said consumers can pay as little as 8¢ an episode or as high as an average of 25¢ per episode. And if a reader decides to unlock all the episodes in a book or comic at once, they essentially pay the full price of the e-book title. Tapas’s user-engagement model also provides readers with free starter keys, along with interactive ads, that can give its members the ability to read content mostly for free, if they engage ads.
In the case of Tapas, Kim said, “You start reading for free. If you’re not hooked, you can move on to the next one.” And because Tapas Media is a technology company, not a content creator, partnering with content providers and authors is key. One of those partnerships is with Fuse Literary, a literary agency founded in 2013 and based in Silicon Valley, with agents working throughout North America. Gordon Warnock, partner at Fuse Literary said he has not talked to an author “who doesn’t want in on this.”
Though most books they acquire have been previously published, the company plans to debut original content. Current authors include Craig DiLouie, Kelly Hunter, Sean Williams, and Colin Winnette, among others.
For Fuse Literary the partnership means “greater reach and exposure for our clients,” Warnock said. “The whole idea is that you can read a story while standing in line at a grocery store. We have these little moments; this way we’ve brought book content to that realm.”
Correction: The average amount a consumer is likely to pay per episode was noted inaccurately in an earlier version of this story.