Utilizing a business model that combines elements of online gaming and digital reading platforms popular in Korea and China, Radish, a mobile reading app that offers short original serialized fiction, announced it has raised $3 million seed money from Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and publishing industry investments.
Cofounded in February 2016 by Seung-yoon Lee, a former UK digital entrepreneur, and Radish CTO Joy Cho, Radish looks to create a digital reading experience designed for mobile devices. The company has about 15 employees in offices in Los Angeles, Seoul, Korea, and New York.
Radish currently hosts about 700 active writers who create original serialized fiction for about 300,000 readers, Lee said in an interview at the PW offices. The site launched with a focus on YA romance with content that targeted teenage girls. Now, Lee said, the site is expanding its range to include science fiction and fantasy, which, he added, “will drive even more traffic.”
Lee said “the timing is right [for a change in digital reading]. We see a decline in e-readers and as a result a decline in e-book sales.” The key to mobile digital reading, Lee said, is to offer original short genre fiction with 2,000-word chapters, written in a conversational style with cliff hangers.
He even envisions a fiction formatted much like a text message app, a style Radish’s young readers are comfortable reading on a phone. “Writing on Radish is a style somewhere between TV screenwriting and novel writing,” he said.
Radish, he said, is modeled after such platforms as Wattpad, the Toronto-based online reading and writing community for young consumers who read on smartphones, as well as companies like China’s Shanda Literature (2.5 million active writers and 120 million users) or Kakaopage, a Korean serial fiction platform. These sites, he said, offer original short serialized genre fiction written expressly for smartphones. (Lee also notes he has met and conferred with the founders of these platforms.)
Indeed, Lee said writing/reading platforms like Wattpad are more than just business inspirations—they're a pool of potential writers.
All of Radish’s content is produced by writers who first published their work through Wattpad and Kindle Direct Publishing, although Radish doesnot have a formal deal with either firm. Radish recruits Wattpad and KDP writers. Lee said Radish does partner with Serial Box, a digital reading platform offering serialized fiction offered in episodes—a perfect fit for the Radish platform—and offers Serial Box content on the Radish site.
Radish also models gaming platforms like Candy Crush by offering its serialized chapters for free if the reader is prepared to wait a bit for access. The company generates revenue by selling readers Radish “coins,” which are a form online currency that allows Radish readers to open a new chapter immediately.
These “micropayments,” Lee says, generate royalty payments to Radish writers, which he said allows at least one Radish writer to make as much as $13,000 a month. More generally, writers can make “several thousand dollars” a month writing for Radish. “There’s money to be made,” Lee said.
“People want fresh content,” he added, noting that although Radish hopes to transition its Wattpad and KDP writers to conventional publishers, Radish is not interested in licensing content from traditional houses. “We’re only interested in original content,” Lee said.
The Radish model has attracted a range of admiring investors. The $3 million in seed financing includes such investment luminaries as Greylock and Softbank Next Media, in addition to content-related investors that included the United Talent Agency, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, and individual investors such as author Amy Tan. And Larry Kirshbaum, former head of NY Amazon Publishing and former CEO of Warner Books, is a senior advisor to Radish.
Lee said the company will use the seed money to hire editors, developers, and designers. And as the site moves to expand beyond teen girls and the romance genre, Radish is also interested in attracting traditional authors who are interested in writing original material.
After launching an investigative journalism crowdfunding site in the U.K., Lee said he became more interested in a startup that was more about pure publishing, which led him to cofound Radish. He wanted a reading platform that attracted a broader audience and could bring in more revenue for the writers.
“Unlike journalism, people want to pay for fiction,” Lee said. “Serial fiction is the model. At Radish, we want to create a new experience and user interface for mobile devices that is easily readable.”
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that Radish had a formal business relationship with Wattpad and KDP, which is not true. Radish does recruit writers from the two platforms.