If three e-savvy literature-lovers get their way, you’ll always have a new short story at your fingertips.
Connu provides users access to stories by unknown writers who have been recommended by famous authors. So, for instance, you could read “Desert Mermaid,” by Angelina Coppola, who was recommended to Connu by Joyce Carol Oates. Or, you might open up “Hilmar,” by Daniel Lanza, who was recommended by Jonathan Lethem. What better way to find tomorrow’s award-winners?
The idea raised more than $16,000 last year on Kickstarter. Today, the site relaunches with financial backing from Matter Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that supports media entrepreneurs.
Connu — “known” in French — is available as a free app and a Web site. Both are elegantly designed and easy to use. The service publishes two to four times a week. Tap on a title, and you can read the story or listen to the author read it to you.
Today’s new story is “Me Too,” a mournful tale of teenage alienation by Jonathan Miles, an already pretty well known writer who was recommended “by the Editors,” which would seem to violate the principle here, but that’s okay.
Co-founder Susannah Luthi was working as a journalist in Egypt when she met a woman who was coding books for cell phones to distribute in places where books are hard to come by. That got her thinking about how she might develop a literature-related mobile app. She eventually joined forces with Niree Perian and Joseph White in Los Angeles, and the three of them came up with Connu.
The editors reach out to famous (and sometimes not-so-famous) writers and ask them to recommend work from their most promising students and friends. Submitted stories are edited by Perian, and writers are paid upfront. Luthi declined to give a figure but said: “We are moving to a revenue share model as we implement the pay structure. This way, we won’t cap the earnings a writer with a popular story can get.”
The site is nice to look at, but it’s difficult to divine what exactly is unique about Connu’s offerings. “We’re focused on readers,” Luthi says, “ease of discoverability of amazing new writing; getting readers and writers together on the ground floor of fiction. We believe in good editing and the importance of curation. We offer a variety, and we’re talking to our users all the time and building out ways for them to jump into the platform and be its driving force.”
One Story meets Facebook?
Financial viability remains the big question. “We’re rolling out a few things in the months to come,” Luthi says, “but the first step is the pay structure. We’re keeping the platform open, with suggested payment for each story. Our readers identify with specific writers and send them fan-Tweets and fan mail through us, asking for more stories, for a novel, etc. They can pay as much as they want to the writers they love.”
This doesn’t sound like a way to wealth, but I wouldn’t have thought a chat app was worth $16 billion, so who am I to say? In any case, Luthi and her partners don’t seem to be in this for the money. And anything that encourages people to read good short fiction is worth supporting.
Connu’s new relationship with Matter Ventures will provide what Luthi describes as “intense mentorship, amazing support, and a place to work alongside other entrepreneurs.”