The ups and downs of bringing mobile fiction to life

The ups and downs of bringing mobile fiction to life

We hear about startups when they get an injection of funding, or when they launch, but what about all the hard work in between? What does it take to grow a sustainable and profitable business in today's marketplace? Last year oolipo, one of the finalists in FutureBook's inaugural 2015 BookTech Company of the Year Awards, shared their challenges and learnings since the event. Now we revisit the team as they continue on the journey from great idea to going concern.

It’s been a privilege to appear in FutureBook a few times over the past year. Most startup founders would kill for press. The articles and interviews that’ve appear over the past year put oolipo in touch with some of the progressive minds emerging out of the intersection of the technology and publishing industries. And we didn’t have to kill anyone.

FutureBook's BookTech Company of the Year event enabled us to pitch the company, despite being pre-launch, and we received some critical feedback on our beta and platform features, most of which we implemented later into our roadmap. Despite the fact that the publishing industry gets a bad rap for its reputed “conservatism”, we’ve found some of the most compelling arguments for mobile fiction defended by people in the publishing industry at BookTech.

For those who don’t know, oolipo is a storytelling platform for original mobile series. Our mission is to create the first marketplace for mobile-native stories. We publish stories that use some of the native features of your phone. We looked around and observed that a new kind of reader was emerging. Reading no longer means just black text on a white screen. Just like we read articles or news online, reading involves a mix of text, audio, video, GIFs, third-party APIs, some geolocation perhaps. It’s really a holistic story or narrative experience. Most importantly, and this is something that we’re currently developing, this new kind of reading involves an active component as well. Participating in the narrative, either by creating your own side stories or comments or remixing what’s there.

What’s new with oolipo? Well, we’ve launched a product! That’s pretty cool. We released the free oolipo app on iOS a couple weeks ago. Thus far, the response has been very positive. Three oolipo originals are featured in the app, all of which have received high-praise about the way our team weaved all these different features and assets into a holistic story experience.

These stories are Darkness Behind Our Eyes, a dystopian graphic novel written and designed by Karrie Fransman; Get Used to It, a documentary about female empowerment through skateboarding made with Blam Studio; and London, I, a portrait of London by YouTube star Suli Breaks. It was super hard work getting these stories designed and produced, but our content and design team created something very unique. One person described the experience as something like “watching a book and reading a movie”.

So, now, the oolipo app offers stories our content and design team have created and produced. But, we’ll soon release a set of story creation tools that will open up the platform. This will be the main engine of the product. We have a high demand for the oolipo format. People really like it. But, there’s not enough content on the platform. So, with the creation tools we’ll enable storytellers to create directly into our new format. The tools will be something like a Keynote for mobile stories. For user-generated content, users will be able to craft backstories and interact with the main narrative using these new tools. We’ll release a beta for early testing and, later, slowly open the tools through an invitation system. Our vision is to have the tools open for everyone. But, one step at a time.

We’ve also introduced our payment system. We chose to monetize via credits. You can download the app for free. First episode of every story is always free, and new signups get 250 free credits. You can purchase 100 credits for 99¢, 400 credits for $3.99, or 800 credits for $6.99. Once you’ve got some credits, you can buy individual episodes or the entire season. You won’t need any credits to experience Get Used to It. It’s totally free.

We elected to use a credits model pilfered from mobile gaming, after observing the failure of some ebook subscription models during the past two years or so. We think the micropayment model has worked well, with products like Radish, Blendle, and Pokémon Go adopting similar models.

We hope the future is free of free. Artists and creators desperately need a space to monetize their work and stop relying on advertising. Not trying to throw shade on those who rely on advertising. You do what you can. But, we want to enable the creation of high-quality mobile series. We hope our stories can add value, entertain, and address issues that people care about. And, we think people will pay for this content of content. The bottom line for oolipo is that we want to provide a new space where storytellers can create new experiences using mobile technology, build an audience, and monetize their work.

All of this is super ambitious and hard. All startups are hard. Most of them fail. But, we have a very talented and laser-focused team working together to create a magical experience for mobile devices. The hardest part, and this should come as no surprise, is distribution and growth. Finding the right channels to communicate our vision, exhibit the brilliance of our product, and get people to take the step of downloading and experiencing the stories. We’re currently raising another round of funding to beef-up our development and growth. So, investors, get in touch if you want to be part of something special.

There's lots of other special stuff out there today that's inspiring our team in turn. For example, I’ve been binging on 13 Reasons Why. One of the 13 reasons why I’m watching is that it very closely resembles an upcoming story of oolipo. It’s called Jellybone, written by Kate Pullinger. So, be on the look out for that if you’re a fan of 13 Reasons Why. My 16-month old son and I are pretty obsessed with all the TinyBop apps. They just released one called Space that’s pretty dope. We enjoy exploring other worlds. Fittingly, oolipo tries to do the same.