Radish wants you to binge-read romance novels, and now it has a fresh $63.2 million to pay its soap opera writers and gaming pros to get you hooked

  • Radish, an app that publishes fiction with a focus on romance novels, announced on Tuesday it raised $63.2 million in Series A funding led by SoftBank Ventures Asia and Kakao Page Corp.
  • The app publishes novels chapter by chapter, giving readers the option to either wait for the next book chapter to unlock or pay to read it immediately.
  • CEO Seungyoon Lee told Business Insider the app is his attempt to introduce mobile serialized fiction, popular in East Asia, to the US market.
  • Radish produces its own content through a series of "writer's rooms," where soap opera writers produce chapters for stories daily.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

If you're in a nautical mood, you can peruse "My Pirate Prince." Or if you want something more earthy, you can try "Tempted By My Brother's Best Friend." 

Those are just a few of the e-books that have racked up millions of reads on Radish, an app that publishes romance fiction in bite-sized chunks. On Tuesday the startup announced it raised $63.2 million in Series A funding led by SoftBank Ventures Asia and Kakao Page Corp.

Radish plans to use the money to open a new office in Los Angeles, where it will hire more staff and expand into the entertainment industry by adapting its original stories into TV shows and games.

Radish features a few serialized genres — like science fiction, horror, thrillers, and fantasy — but its biggest draw is romance.

"Romance is not the only genre that we're going to focus on. But it was a great, great starting genre," Radish CEO Seungyoon Lee told Business Insider. "Because if you look at fiction reader behavior, romance readers almost read one book a month. Whereas mystery or other genre readers read much less."

Radish's stories are readable a single chapter at a time. When someone reaches the end of a chapter, they either have to wait — times range from an hour to a day— to unlock the next chapter, or pay to read it immediately using an in-app currency that can cost up to $3.99 to acquire in bundles.

The cost of reading a whole novel varies, the company says. "Each chapter/episode is a couple coins, and you pay for a bulk of coins! So, it's hard to say because it is dependent on the story,'' Radish spokesperson Grace Gathright said in an email reply to Business Insider.

Lee said the app is styled after mobile gaming, where many apps are free but require payments for additional content.

"The majority of players for Candy Crush is women," Lee said. "The majority of puzzle games, casino games— the players are women. We're using mobile gaming kind of monetization mechanics."

So romance, a genre with a mostly female audience,  seemed like a natural way to introduce fiction apps to the US market.

"I come from South Korea, and we do a lot of mobile, serialized fiction," Lee said. "I felt that here in the US, there wasn't that kind of platform."

According to Radish, the app has become incredibly popular. The company did not disclose expenses, but said its revenue from daily sales has reached $100,000. "Torn Between Alphas," a romantic tale featuring werewolves, is listed in the app as having been viewed over 58 million times.

Lee attributes that growth to the adoption of a "writer's room" model. Initially Radish published stories from contributing authors. But eventually the company hired a staff of almost 100 soap opera writers to produce new stories and update them with new chapters at a rapid pace.

"We're a serialization platform on steroids," Lee said. "Our top story is getting serialized five times a day."

Radish's model for producing new content resembles TV production, sans filming and actors. That's why new book chapters are called "episodes."

"There are people who just focus on the plot," Lee said of his writers, "…there are people focusing on the editing, and there are showrunners who are actually putting all of these things together."

Their writer's room, using the soap opera model, has produced as much as 700 new episodes a month. 

Radish also tests different versions of the same story, switching details like titles and chapter openings to figure out what appeals most to readers.

"Mobile readers have a very short attention span," Lee said. "So the first few paragraphs of the first chapter really has a strong impact."

Lee said Radish had found through testing that first-person stories with female leads tended to beat stories written in third-person or with non-female main characters. But he didn't rule out eventually expanding into content aimed at a male readership, based on the popularity of similar apps in East Asia aimed at men.

"There could be that kind of equivalent for the western audience in fantasy, or scifi, or even mystery-thriller," Lee said. "But it's a matter of content investment."

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