Serial Fiction Startup JukePop Democratizes the Editorial Process
Jerry Fan, founder and CEO of serial fiction publisher JukePop, believes he can find the next Great American Novel -- with the help of the internet. Like other publishing startups that use crowdsourcing, JukePop hopes to inject a measure of democracy into the editorial process. The online portal and mobile app allows writers to market test their work, releasing serialized book chapters to the JukePop audience, who then vote on the quality of the piece. Fittingly, JukePop is a play on jukebox, says Fan, "where one person in the room gets to play a song and the entire room gets to enjoy it."
Fan, who has worked at both Silicon Valley startups and Fortune 500 companies, hopes to infuse book publishing with a more nimble development mindset. "Publishing has become very slow. In the high-tech startup world, we're taught to get our ideas out there as quickly as possible and get feedback." The technology sector uses the term "agile" to refer to the speed and flexibility with which startups must test and adjust their concepts.
According to Fan, authors waste too much time reaching out to friends and family during the writing process, let alone shopping their works out to agents for publishing contracts. "Those are subjective opinions," says Fan, who built JukePop to be powered by analytics. "We only make judgments on mechanics: good grammar, formatting, and spelling."
JukePop leaves the qualitative judgments to user votes. The system totals the up-votes and down-votes for specific chapters and provides those analytics to authors over time. Authors can then modify upcoming chapters or retool badly reviewed ones, adapting their content to reader feedback and crafting a work of serial fiction one chapter at a time. JukePop rewards the authors of the highest-rated serials with a small cash prize incentivizing them to keep writing, though they need to have been updated at least once in that month. JukePop also allows its authors to include "Support Author" and "Unlock Chapter" buttons on their profiles, which enable donations for good work and place further chapters behind a paywall, respectively.
Although JukePop does take a 5% cut from some transactions, its leadership aims to monetize JukePop in other ways. "We will never turn to ads as a way to monetize the reader base, but we will monetize it based on things the reader finds important," says Fan, who understands that authors will stop using JukePop if it gates content to readers at sign-up. While JukePop searches to find ways of monetizing its regular readership, it has already developed a profitable pricing scheme by providing content to libraries on a kind of "pay-as-you-go" basis.
"If you think about libraries, they want to get electronic content, but they need to pull in a lot of back end technology," says Fan. One of the most cost–intensive aspects of that back end technology is the digital rights management (DRM) server, which most publishers require in order to license books. The DRM servers track the number of digital checkouts per book, letting publishers charge libraries for each digital copy in circulation.
Fan recognizes this can be a huge constraint for rural libraries or those without a significant IT budget, so he has allowed access to JukePop's catalogue through library websites. "We're not taking the reader away from the library website, so the libraries can still preserve a sense of community, preserve their channel of communication." Libraries then pay for each chapter a user finishes, rather than for simply opening or checking out a serial.
Will JukePop generate the next Great American Novel? Fan is optimistic: "When serialized fiction was really popular in the 1920s, A-list writers were the ones who wrote serial fiction. The B-list writers published directly to books." The next great work of fiction should be relevant to the Harry Potter generation, says Fan. Who better to judge up-and-coming writers than their generational peers?
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