This startup has found a jazzy way to engage Gen Y and Millennials in reading. While a Gen X might prefer the whiff of a paperback to a video barrage, Gen Y and Millennials are sure to go for this multimedia packed style of reading fiction.
We often hear that reading books is on the decline. As Gen Z and Millennials are bombarded with super attractive media that is available at the click of a button, paperbacks, audio books, and even digital books aren’t really bringing back reading habits.
What could jazz up written fiction enough to successfully compel millennials to spend time on it?
Plop Stories, a global interactive fiction entertainment platform based out of Bangalore, is aiming to entertain and educate Gen Y and Z in a language they understand – immersive, interactive, bite-sized fiction.
The Tech Panda spoke to Anushka Shetty, Co-Founder of Plop Stories. She shared insights on this new-fangled approach to reading that’s becoming all the rage.
These are tiny nudges and elements woven seamlessly into the story to take the reading experience to the next level and make reading trending again for a generation that’s really hooked on Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
“The idea is that in the publishing industry, in fiction specially, there’s been no innovation. We’ve gone from paperbacks to Kindle, which is effectively digitisation of paper. And we haven’t really gone ahead and experimented. No other significant innovation has happened in the joy of reading space,” she says.
Hence, this mobile-first company creates fiction in a unique, new fast-paced format targeted towards a young audience. The format takes the written word and infuses multiple multimedia elements like video, audio, and role-playing mobile-based simulations to bring a very real, life-like experience to a smart-phone obsessed generation.
Marry the Written Word with Multimedia Elements
Plop was one of 15 startups chosen to be incubated by the IIM Bangalore Women Startup Program, which was funded by Goldman Sachs. A grateful Shetty says she and her Co-Founder Vineet Shetty did quite some market research for their product.
They began researching and started doing focus groups around consumption patterns amongst the Millennials and realised that while reading, downloading on the Kindle app and reading on the phone was considered cumbersome by most.
We basically marry the written word with various multimedia elements and other elements that a smartphone can provide
In spite of that, they found that most millennials spend much time reading on their smartphones in various formats, such as reading a Buzzfeed blog or on WhatsApp. However, reading as a concept, in the form of fiction or a novel on the Kindle app or smartphones was considered cumbersome.
“We started playing around and understanding what we can do. Can we be really innovative in creating a platform that hooks these generations, and that’s how Plop was born. We basically marry the written word with various multimedia elements and other elements that a smartphone can provide,” says the 28-year old entrepreneur.
Plop indeed brings a unique method of content consumption. Simple native features of the smartphone are weaved into the story itself. Thus, small role-playing simulations are added to make reading a truly interactive and immersive experience.
“The idea is with Plop, you don’t just read the story, but you live it,” says Shetty.
The user gets a mix of not just the written word, but other multimedia elements. For example, if they’re reading a horror, appropriate background music will play, like a creaking door. In fact, the reader could get a jump scare in the middle of the story.
Bandersnatch Endings and Live Calls
To take the whole interaction to the next level, users can take decisions within the story, very much like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, where the viewer has to keep choosing options to reach the end of the story. Thus, the user decides which way the story goes, a method that currently is a hit on YouTube. Plop uses the same method to make the format more intuitive and appealing.
“This is ‘choose your own adventure’, but in fiction and reading. So you can decide which way the story goes,” Shetty explains.
She gives an example of a simple feature of the smartphone, which is weaved into a thriller. In the story, the protagonist’s friend is kidnapped. Typically, on Kindle or in a paperback, the reader will read the description of the ransom call in the narration. On Plop, the user gets the call on their phone. Their phone will actually ring, which will look like a WhatsApp or a Skype call. As a reader, the user can decide whether to answer the phone or not. Based on that decision, the story will move forward.
“You will read the rest of the story, but these are tiny nudges and elements woven seamlessly into the story to take the reading experience to the next level and make reading trending again for a generation that’s really hooked on Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook. This is an attempt to make reading interesting and engaging for a generation whose language is already very digital, they chat more than reading,” she says.
The startup deploys a platform model, where content creators from around the world can create their own interactive stories. Any layman can create and add the available special effects to their stories with a simple drag and drop tool. After submission, the story goes live on the app for users to read.
This is ‘choose your own adventure’, but in fiction and reading. So you can decide which way the story goes
Shetty says they’re focused on putting the best content creators from all over the world. In fact, currently they have onboarded a New York Times best-selling author.
While the most popular genre on the platform is horror, thrillers do well because of the many contextual cues with the use of music, audio, video notes, and video calls. Writers can make the story thrilling to the point where the user really feels they are a part of the story.
Although Plop are not in the video space, their competition, laterally, is with the OTT industry, a streaming platform, or a video platform. Shetty says they are aware of this fact.
“We’re not directly competing with OTT channels as such, but at the end of the day, I admit, that we are essentially competing for entertainment time,” she says.
However, narrowing it down to who else is in the space of reinventing reading, she says there are few players really focusing on fringe readers.
The idea is with Plop, you don’t just read the story, but you live it
“Essentially, everybody’s vying for your recreation time. What do you do with your free time? Where are you spending it? Are you spending it on a Netflix or a Plop? We are essentially vying for the same amount of time that’s available for entertainment for each one. In that broader context, the competition could be unlimited,” she says.
Mindful Consumption of Content
The interactive nature of the platform’s content offers active engagement rather than passive, as experienced by users on YouTube etc., where people often forget that a video is playing. With a call to action every couple of minutes, user engagement is active and engaging. Shetty says, on this point, Plop differs from platforms, like YouTube or Instagram, where users just mindlessly scroll.
“So instead of it being mindless, this is mindful consumption of content. I think that’s where we’re trying to differentiate,” she says.
For Fringe Readers
Plop is currently trying to grasp the attention of 18-35 year-olds, an audience that has the intention to read, but is easily bored.
“Our market is essentially fringe readers, who want to read, but don’t end up reading because they don’t want to read a really long book. They don’t have the attention span to read a long book, on Kindle or on their phones even,” says Shetty, who is a Chartered Accountant by profession.
So far, Plop has crossed 100,000 users in total. Currently, they enjoy an engagement time of 45-50 minutes. They are seeing a direct increase in consumption with increasing number of pieces of content on the platform as genres and writers are being onboarded. Moreover, 95% of their users are from outside India.