Move over, Goodreads: today marks the launch of Storyboard Cafe, a new Chicago-based online community for readers and writers that aims to improve on the book development process and help readers find great new content online.
Founded by tech entrepreneur Kerris Lee with the help of half a dozen developers, writers, and strategists, the concept was born of a desire to alleviate some of the pain points associated with the current publishing model. Writers, Lee says, often have a hard time getting feedback on their work. Storyboard Cafe allows them to post excerpts of their writing for review by the audience for which it is intended: book enthusiasts they hope to ultimately convert into fans.
Think of it as a digital literary community for the millennial mindset. "Our generation wants flexibility," Lee says. "We don’t have to buy a car anymore-we can rent a bike from Divvy. We don't have to book a hotel room-we can use Airbnb. We wanted to mimic that thinking for the book industry, to help readers access new content, and encourage writers to produce it."
Writers can access the community free of charge to set up a profile and post their work, whether it takes the form of a short story, fan fiction, or chapters from a manuscript in progress. Readers are given a sneak peek at the writing, and if they find a style they like they can pay a small monthly fee to access everything that author posts going forward. The model is similar to YouTube's Paid Channels subscriptions. Writers, therefore, don't just stand to benefit from reader comments, but can earn a little money as well.
Since reader comments are central to the process, Storyboard Cafe includes a "troll meter" to ensure writers get constructive criticism above all else; too much negative feedback from a reader and his comments will be blocked from the site. According to Lee, an additional objective is to help users find publishers for their work, both through Storyboard Cafe's network of resources and by helping writers strengthen their fan base. "It's a cat and mouse game," he says, noting he believes that authors with a following will be in a better position to attract a contract.
Stories on Storyboard Cafe can be streamed online a chapter or few pages at a time, a security measure designed to reduce the risk of theft, and all uploaded content can be encrypted and will include a watermark. The site is optimized for iPads and smartphones, with Kindle, Kindle Fire, and Nook compatibility to come.
In keeping with the cafe theme, which underscores the community and conversational aspects of the site, Storyboard Cafe is calling its current platform the "breakfast blend." Development on "dark roast 2.0" is expected to begin in June. Like its writers, the Storyboard Cafe team will leverage user feedback as much as it can. "We're a grassroots organization, we move when the community moves," says Lee. "We really want to focus on establishing it and learning from it. This is what will influence our future plans."
So far, future iterations are expected to include book trailers and behind-the-scenes author videos exclusive to subscribers, along with author chats through Google Hangouts and a crowdsourced marketplace that writers can use to connect with photographers and source cover art. Storyboard Cafe plans on launching a Kickstarter to raise money for further IT goals, such as adding multimedia capabilities that will allow writers to create enhanced ebooks.