Hooked entices young people to fall for reading hook, line, and sinker. The company aims to engage teenagers and millennials through a near-voyeuristic experience via fictionalized text message stories. Prerna Gupta, Co-Founder of Hooked, claims:
The way we consume content is changing dramatically, especially in younger generations. For example, a majority of young adult novels are being read digitally now in the U.S., and that’s increasingly happening on mobile. But the way that books are created hasn’t changed in centuries.
Hooked allows readers to select stories presented as a text message conversation between characters through a mobile app. Anthony Ha from TechCrunch explains that instead of flipping pages, taps summon the next text. The app includes stand-alone stories and chapter series that reach about 1,000 words. Users are offered several free stories along with a charged option for unlimited access of $2.99 for a week, $7.99 for a month, and $39.99 for a year.
The History of Hooked
Prerna Gupta and Parag Chordia previously worked as successful app developers before they founded Hooked, the self-proclaimed “future of storytelling”. After Gupta experienced a panic attack about the uncertainty of their novel and its lack of a typical protagonist, the pair decided to test a selection of their novel on an app and track audience response. They realized that the audience barely finished even the limited best seller excerpts as Gupta explains:
People say that reading is dying. But we refused to believe this. Storytelling is fundamental to humans; some believe it is the essence of humanity. The demand for great stories is ever present. Fiction must evolve with the times.
After attempting various approaches to encourage audience completion, the couple decided to test out text message stories. They discovered that the format appeals to young audiences for several reasons: the text message style ensures brevity, encourages intimacy in storytelling, and feels familiar to an uber tech-literate audience.
What Hooked Has to Offer
Hooked hires college students to write fiction stories for the app. The writers then produce more pieces in the genres that receive the most engagement. Romance and horror top the list of the most popular genres among their teen audience with endless chapters available and an option for subscribers to self-publish.
The success behind the frivolous content centers around young people reading to completion on the app. The content also fits precisely with readers’ parameters for time consumption, tone, and style, which promotes returning readership. Forbes’ Adam Rowe describes the challenge of the text style content: “To keep the audience engaged, you have to be pithy and keep the story moving along at a brisk pace.”
The Market’s Take
Readers are obsessed with Hooked. Gupta claims that “rather than destroy reading, Hooked makes reading engaging for a broad audience. We’ve heard from many teens who say they hate reading books, but they love reading in Hooked. It’s a gateway drug.” Overall, the app boasts 10 million subscribed readers, with over 20 million downloads. Gupta also states that the audience has “collectively reading over 10 billion fictional text messages in the app” and written “a million chat stories of their own, directly from their phones.”
This enterprise offers real-time data about audience interaction along with providing a unique reading experience for their teen readers. Along with the success from their innovation and versatility, the app has also secured substantial investments since its initial conception in 2015.
What Hooked Created
The most business-oriented use results from the app’s original purpose: a/b testing storylines. Gupta told the LA Times, “I think it can push the boundaries for Hollywood in experimenting with new storylines and diverse characters. If you can test stories … you could take out some of the guesswork.”
The app’s analytics resulted in three main conclusions about audience reading patterns that differ from current industry practice. First, the point of view doesn’t matter; readers connect the same with first present as they do third past. Second, readers seldom engage if the piece begins in media res. Third, the race and gender of the protagonist make no difference in engagement, aside from teenage girls actually preferring female leads. Michelle Castillo from CNBC says that Hooked’s audience is “18 and 24, with 69 percent under the age of 25. The average user, however, is 25, and more than half are female.”
This analytic function serves both writers and publishers who are looking to test new material, along with Hollywood execs searching for the latest piece, as David Drake of The Huffington Post writes:
[Gupta’s] team is using this data to transform the content industry and Hollywood is catching on as film studios can test stories in the same way before production. This is the reason why investors, including Greg Silverman, President of Warner Brothers, has invested in the app.
Hooked also creates other avenues of content such as spoiler sites and featured series. One of the spoiler sites, Hooked Stories, publishes complete stories and popular chapters from Hooked free of charge. These sites essentially poach content for readers and capitalize on the app’s paywall.
Featured series, such as “Dark Matter,” are produced for platforms like Snapchat. Todd Spangler describes the series as a “multimedia series [that] blends the chat-fiction format” with voice-overs and illustrations. The featured series last longer than a standard Hooked story and draw massive audiences to the platforms.
Hooked has been enticing readers since 2015 and ranked among the Apple store’s top apps since 2017. The tailored series, which are available in more than seven languages, attracts readers without demanding excessive amounts of the readers’ time. The understanding of readership Hooked provides also proves that audiences, such as the arts, are changing. With an ever-growing audience base, this app has truly transformed fiction reading from flipping through pages to swiping through text messages for a watchers’ perspective.