The creative folks at Rooster kindly extended an invite to Book Rioters to try their ebook app, and we eagerly took them up. At $4.99 a month, Rooster is like a FarmBox, delivering to your phone a two-book pairing each month, one Contemporary and one Classic, in easy to read, bite-sized installments. With such a novel concept, I had to learn more about the inspiration and intention behind the app, so I checked in with Yael Goldstein Love, co-founder and editorial director, who gave me the inside scoop, Q&A style.
Q: The Rooster team is full of book lovers. How did you come up with the idea for ebook pairings?
Our main purpose is to fit immersive reading into the lives of people who don’t currently read fiction and wish they did. To do that right, we tried to break down the component anxieties that typically make up the “I don’t read anymore” anxiety so that we could soothe them all. Three majors ones seemed to us to be, “There are so many great works of literature I’ve never read,” “I have no idea what works of contemporary fiction to read”, and “I never even talk about books anymore.” We think the monthly pairing of a classic and a contemporary title manages to soothe all three of these anxieties simultaneously. You’re catching up on some of the Great Works you might have missed; you’re reading some fantastic newer work; and because we’ve carefully paired our titles, together they make fantastic discussion material. We have some exciting plans for some pretty original social-reading features we want to introduce later on to further enable this discussion, though we’re determined to never foist social-reading on readers who prefer reading to be a private activity. (I am one of those people.)
Q: Did you intend Rooster as a competitor to other ebook outlets, or a supplement, or just a really fun idea?
We don’t see ourselves as an ebook outlet. We’re a service that helps fit fiction into the lives of busy people. To use a really shallow analogy, we’re more like a gym than an exercise equipment supplier. And if we actually accomplish what we’ve set out to do, we’ll have turned a population of former-readers back into readers, which would benefit everyone in the book business. So can I say, instead of any of these choices, lovely as they are, that we intend Rooster as an ally to all?
We choose the contemporary first. That’s the hard part. We’ve commissioned many of our titles and for those I work very closely with the authors to shape a reading experience well-suited to Rooster. The digital serial is really a new art form so it’s something I feel we’re figuring out together and I think that’ll continue to be true for a while to come. That’s part of what’s so exciting to me as a novelist and to most of the writers I’ve spoken to about Rooster – this idea of a new form of fiction.
But we’re also choosing some books from other publishers, ones we think will work particularly well as serials. The thing that all our contemporary choices have in common is that they’re literary page-turners, by which we mean they’re beautifully written and have characters that may well stick in your head for life, but they also have the kind of page-turning plot we tend to associate more with genre fiction.
The classic is chosen to form an interesting counterpoint to the contemporary title. In choosing the pairings, we also tend toward the shorter, less-read works by authors known for some pretty hefty masterpieces.
Q: Any plans to have reader picked pairings, or themes?
That’s not currently in the works, but I think it’s a fantastic idea. Some writers and publishers are now coming to us with a proposed classic pairing already picked out, and that thrills me. Peter Orner recently came up with an idea for a serial that builds off of some of the work of Ben Hecht. I’d love it if this pairing notion started more and more of these cross-century conversations.
Q: I love the installments! (But I appreciate that you don’t hold me to them.) What is it about getting something in bite-sized pieces that makes for a great app?
We’re all so busy now and we’re so crushed down by real and imaginary to-do lists. Even my stack of New Yorkers in the corner crushes me down, despite the fact that I love reading them. I think that’s what’s great about the serial model, and we tried to foster this in every way we could think of, including our surprisingly popular “installments are patient” push notification; it allows what’s fun and enjoyable to just be that, and not another thing among your stack of things to do. The installments slot into the spaces in your day when you’re not otherwise productive, the times when you’re just fiddling with your phone. They’re like a pure bonus – meaningful time rediscovered.
Q: What has the response been (for the invite-only readers) so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, really beyond our wildest dreams. We’re hearing from people that they’re reading fiction again for the first time in years, that they’re feeling better about the time they spend on their phone, especially time spent during their commutes. One reader tweeted that we were introducing “frictionless fiction” into his life. That man should have a job in advertising. I’d hire him. Also I should mention that although we’re still in the invite phase, everyone who requests an invite gets one, and so far always within three days.
Check back for the Book Riot review of Rooster, coming soon!