Great Jones Street app aims to spearhead a renaissance for short fiction

Great Jones Street app aims to spearhead a renaissance for short fiction

This American short fiction app is hoping its author quality control will attract a wide audience to its mobile story 'bursts'.

The pitch

Great Jones Street is a mobile-first short fiction app "focused on telling the story of the contemporary human experience – from the street, to the suburbs, supernatural to steamy – with stories written by today’s most talented authors". The app curates thousands of stories across a range of genres (science fiction, crime, mystery, erotica, fantasy, horror) which users can then listen to or stream in 5-, 10-, or 15+ minute fiction 'bursts'.

The team

GJS is the latest venture from c.e.o. Kelly Abbott, a technologist and serial entrepreneur. He has founded and built several other tech companies, and boasts past acquisitions by Adobe and Match.com.

Abbott created the app with his father, Lee K. Abbott, a critically-acclaimed short story writer. He is also involved with a number of nonprofits and startups dedicated to children’s literacy. He is chair of the board of directors of Traveling Stories and a Board member CIE San Diego, which provided tech for community organizations to share healthcare info. He is also a member of Seed San Diego, investing in early stage companies with disruptive technology.

What's the gap in the market?

Mobile storytelling apps are not a new idea (see StoryPop, Explory and Oolipo) but the jury's still out on whether any will achieve mainstream popularity. Abbott believes that the quality of GJS's talent makes it stand out.

"Today’s mobile generation is looking for high-quality, snack-sized stories to quickly challenge their intellect and provide a sublime escape," he says. "Great Jones Street is that unique platform built on quality fiction and gaining intimate insight into the writers and their processes. Great Jones Street features stories written by today’s most talented and prolific fiction writers; Pulitzer-caliber stories from 500+ talented, prolific authors. These incude Guggenheim fellows, writers published in the New Yorker, Lightspeed and hundreds of other rags both online and off; and winners of Flannery O’Connor, Bram Stoker, Hugo, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, and Nebula Awards to name just a few."

The GJS team uses its existing writers as a quality filter; new authors must be recommended by another writer already featured on GJS to appear on the app. Abbott is also proud of the app's "indie spirit". "Readers can talk directly with writers," he explains." We offer author Q & As, readings from them of their stories, Facebook streaming, book clubs and videos so users can get the most out of their experience. No pretense, no filter, no attitude."

Finally, Great Jones Street offers publishers multiple options to syndicate their content. "We make collections available to brands and other content providers to offer their readers a richer, more engaging experience."

Success so far?

In the year since launch, Great Jones Street has become the largest purchaser of short fiction annually in the US - and Abbott's focus on quality seems to be paying off. The app currently has 5 stars on the App Store and 4½ on Google Play. The team also recently announced an agreement with Medium to make premium short fiction from GJS available daily on its platform.  GJS fiction short stories, and a historical fiction serial, are now also featured on Medium’s homepage every weekday. "We're emphasizing the natural marriage between non-fiction and fiction to create a more engaging, sticky user experience," Abbott explains.

Biggest challenges?

As with any new platform, the major challenges at this point are growth and awareness. "We have thousands of downloads and users and hundreds of authors on the app, promoting their presence on it, and are looking to even further expansion through partnerships," Abbott says.

Ultimate ambition?

It all comes down to the transformative power of reading. "Studies show people who read fiction are happier, have better relationships, are more empathetic, less anxious, have more to talk about," Abbott enthuses. "Life looks better when people take time to escape and read contemporary fiction. It has been an inspiration throughout my life and is a powerful tool for readers and publishers alike to engage on a whole new level."

Abbott also believes that GJS could be at the forefront of a short fiction revival. "Today, consumers are buying more fiction than when the Kindle came out seven years ago. Many brands and news publications are rethinking their formats, tech tools and revenue streams. The Atlantic, Esquire, Playboy, Redbook, all featured fiction prominently back in the day - and readers loved it. Bottom line: fiction is booming and we want to be an integral part of the upswing in its consumption. We believe short fiction gets short shrift and with the right packaging and promotion we can bring it back in a big way. Our partnerships with Medium and PageHabit are just the start in re-invigorating consumption of short fiction by the masses.

"Fiction can extend the value of news and nonfiction content (on topics from parenting to artificial intelligence) by providing character and dramatic context in an otherwise stale information cycle. Fiction effortlessly offers a more rich, unexpected experience. Imagine every hot news topic with its own companion short read to form a fire around which communities gather. It is another piece of the contemporary content chain that fits right into the social media model for publishers."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Really get to know your audiences. Having empathy for your reader goes a long way. Talk to your target audiences. Really talk with them. Make the discussion vigorous. Care about the conversations that pop up and ask ‘why’ more than ‘how'.