Serialised, freemium, bitesize: has Radish Fiction finally nailed mobile storytelling?

Serialised, freemium, bitesize: has Radish Fiction finally nailed mobile storytelling?

The big-hitting Korean team behind Radish Fiction is starting with mobile fiction - but their sights are set on turning the world's best stories into transmedia gold. 

The pitch

Radish is a short-form serialised fiction platform designed for a mobile-first world.  

"We are making it possible for the next Charles Dickens to reach and monetise stories for today’s mobile audience," declares founder and c.e.o Seung-yoon Lee. "Our content is perfect for a quick read while riding the subway, waiting in line or grabbing a bite to eat.  Micropayments provide early access to the next chapter so there is no need for a long wait after a cliffhanger ending."

The team

Radish brings together an experienced engineering and product team headquartered in Korea with a bevy of investors from the worlds of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and publishing. Investment firms include Greylock, Lowercase Capital, Softbank Next Media Innovation Fund, UTA, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) and Sherpa Capital. Individual investors include bestselling author Amy Tan, ITV Chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette; Charlie Songhurst, former head of corporate strategy at Microsoft; billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen; Matt Humphrey, LendingHome co-founder and c.e.o; Duncan Clark, BDA China founder and early adviser to Alibaba; and Jeremy Yap - among others. Larry Kirshbaum, former head of NY Amazon publishing and ex-CEO of Time Warner Book Group is a senior adviser. Ankur Jain, v.p of product at Tinder, is joining the board.

It’s only Lee's second start-up (right), but he's already making waves; Forbes named him one of the inaugural class members of its Under 30 Asia list, for his commitment to media innovation. "The first startup was crowdfunded journalism platform Byline, and I helped journalist crowdfund their investigative journalism projects," he explains. "We broke big stories with regard to the UK phone hacking scandal and became the largest English-platform of its kind. At Oxford University, I also headed the famous debating society, the Oxford Union. I got to host word-class debates and invite speakers from all walks of life from the PayPal Founder Peter Theil to “Gangnam Style” Psy and Senator John McCain." 

Lee's team is pretty impressive too. Co-founder and c.t.o. Joy Cho brings 10 years of engineering experience including multi-billion-dollar Korean companies like NCSoft and Daum. Head of product Doohaeng Lee recently built Kakopage, a web-based serial fiction app within Korean messaging giant Kakao, and drove its growth to an annual revenue of more than $90million.  Finally, head of content and operations Paul Baek, former Kpop Singer, was director of strategy at Atom Factory before joining Radish.

What's the gap in the market? 

The rise in smartphone reading and fall in the use of e-readers over the past few years inspired Lee to focus on mobile. "Reading is going to happen on smartphones," he insists, "and we think serials with bite-sized episodes and cliffhanger ending is the best format for that. Companies that are capitalising on this in South Korea, Japan and China are already seeing huge success. Shanda Literature, an online serial platform that boasts 2.5 million active writers and 120 million active users, was sold to Tencent for $1.2billion dollars in 2015. In China, some online serial writers are making several million dollars per year from readers making micropayments for new episodes. The top earning writer reportedly makes more than $8million per year."

Success so far?

In less than a year, Radish has netted 700 authors spanning romance, fantasy, YA, paranormal, mystery and sci-fi, and reached hundreds of thousands of app downloads. "Our leading author is making $13,000 a month, and there are several more who are making full career out of it," Lee reports.

 Biggest challenges?

"We have the same challenges facing any start-up scaling a new product," Lee admits. 'But the reception to Radish has been incredibly positive because we’re building on a proven model."

What’s next?

"Expanding our base of authors and reaching a wider audience with our content."

Ultimate ambition?

Lee and his team are thinking way beyond books. Their long-term goal is to break down publishing divisions and create "the world’s largest crowdsourced IP [intellectual property] platform for multi-faceted entertainment." 

"Agencies and publishers rely on their instinct, but we will be using the wisdom of the crowd and power of data to discover the next big IP," Lee claims. "We would like to turn these stories into various transmedia properties from movies and TV dramas to games. At the end of the day, we think we are in the most exciting market because all forms of entertainment and cultural content start from good stories. We are fixing the enigma around finding a great IP by directly soliciting stories from the crowd and vetting them through data."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Whatever happens, people will keep reading. However, reading is in competition with so many other activities from binge-watching Netflix series to playing VR. As entrepreneurs, we should be aware of this reality and strive to reinvent the indispensable experience of reading to fit the needs of our audience."