The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More than 1.8 million teens are reading books by text messages thanks to this start-up

Placeholder while article actions load

OK, it’s not exactly Dickens. But how about a great story delivered to you by text message?

That’s the idea hatched by Prerna Gupta and Parag Chordia. The two entrepreneurs launched their company, Telepathic, a year ago with an application called Hooked after raising $1.9 million from investors that included numerous venture capital firms and Lean Startup author Eric Ries, according to this piece by Anthony Ha in TechCrunch. And the kids, they do love it.

This week, Quartz reports the service has grown to more than 1.8 million downloads, mostly by the company’s target audience of 13-24 year olds. It’s recently become the top grossing book app for iOS in the United States and is now competing with Amazon’s Kindle and Audible apps to be the number one free book app in the U.S. Apple store too.

Books by text?

It works like this. You pick a book from one of the many available genres (horror, science fiction, romance, etc.).  You start receiving a number of texts with the story until you’re completely hooked. And then the app will pause for half an hour. You then get so impatient that you want to get the paid version ($2.99 a week, $7.99 a month, $39.99 a year) to avoid these annoying delays. That’s the revenue model, in case you were wondering.

People do get hooked. The two founders did extensive testing with 15,000 people and found that a typical person only completed reading 35 percent of the books on a mobile-optimized website. But the people who received those same books via text messages became so attached to the story that 85 percent of them completed the book. The company is also tracking which stories are eliciting the most engagement so that they can continue the tale and even branch out to related stories.

There are about 200 writers who create stories specifically for the app, and the criteria is specific. They must be addictive and cut to the chase – not too much character development, complex imagery and flowery language. “While I don’t think it was a great piece of literature,” Ha wrote. “I have to admit that the mystery grabbed me – I kept hitting the ‘Next’ button until I reached the end.”

A great app with a great name from a great small business and it’s a hit. Are you hooked yet?