Fable is a new platform for online book clubs that allows users to join clubs moderated by experts, authors, and influencers, or to start their own clubs. Fable allows readers to leave comments and share links and highlights with other readers, much like a social media platform, directly in the app, which also serves as an e-reader. A popup sidebar on the app offers the equivalent of group discussions. E-books can be purchased directly on Fable’s proprietary bookstore. The service is free, but a $69 premium annual subscription gives users access to a broader selection of clubs and allows members to host larger clubs.
Fable officially launched in January on iOS for Apple devices and Android. Key selling points of the service are the moderated book clubs and the lists of recommended reading grouped around themes, dubbed Folios, curated by creators with name recognition. Among the book clubs that are currently running are the Classics Club, run by author Elif Batuman, which is reading Crime and Punishment; Reading with Netflix, run by Jason Boog, former PW West Coast correspondent and Fable’s head of editorial, which is reading Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar; the Mom Project, run by Colleen Curtis and based on the recruitment website for working moms, which is reading Daring Greatly; and the Jeff Lawson Reading club, run by Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, which is reading Lawson’s own book Ask Your Developer. Current Folios include lists from David Sedaris, who served up recommended books by “iconic alcoholics”; Luvvie Ajaji Jones, who chose three “books to set you free”; and Diana Nyad, who selected several “stories of resilience.”
Fable has a strong Silicon Valley orientation and received $7.25 million in seed funding from investors, led by Redpoint Ventures. Fable founder and CEO Padmasree Warrior is a board member of Spotify and Microsoft, previously served as chief technology officer of Cisco and Motorola, and most recently was CEO and chief development officer for Chinese electric autonomous vehicle company NIO. She is a popular and well-respected figure in Silicon Valley, with 1.4 million Twitter followers.
“Growing up in India, reading was my refuge,” Warrior said on a recent Zoom call. “But now we are all time crunched and don’t feel we have enough time to read. I started Fable so that all of us can fill the micro-moments in our hectic lives with stories.”
Warrior sees reading as means of self-care. “The pandemic has made it all the more apparent that reading is a powerful tool for mental wellness,” she said. “Helping more people achieve mental wellness through reading is our true north.”
Warrior said that she started Fable after trying to understand why people don’t read more despite its obvious mental health benefits. She cited book discovery as a key challenge. “Many people say, ‘There are so many books out there that I don’t know what to read,’ so we are setting out to help solve that.”
Fable’s curators go deep into the backlist, rather than just focusing on current or popular titles. “One question we ask is, ‘How do we surface these great books based on a particular topic of interest to you?’ ” She cited Kepler’s Books in her hometown of Menlo Park, Calif., as a store whose taste she would like the site to emulate.
Warrior views Fable as having a unique agenda, distinct from what she calls “list-making sites” like Goodreads; subscription-based book box businesses like Literati, which offers influencer-curated reading clubs; or even Book Club, which is set to launch later this spring with author-moderated online clubs. For her, Fable is about personal enrichment and, ultimately, empowerment. This is evident in the theme of her own Fable book club, the Fierce Females Reading Club, which is currently tackling Circe by Madeline Miller.
“My dream is to build a platform where people can connect through stories and build their own book clubs,” Warrior said. “Fable is about how everyone can aspire to be Oprah or Reese Witherspoon.”