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Fiction-App Startup Radish Raises $3 Million from UTA, Bertelsmann, Amy Tan and Others

Variety logo Variety 1/31/2017 Todd Spangler
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Radish Media, a short-form serialized fiction platform startup, has raised $3 million in seed funding from investors including UTA, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments and author Amy Tan.

Founded in 2015, Radish lets writers offer several chapters of a story for free to readers — and then charge a small fee to continue reading the story. The company said it currently has about 700 authors spanning romance, fantasy, young-adult, paranormal, mystery and sci-fi genres after soft-launching its app in February 2016. According to Radish, its top author earns $13,000 a month.

Other user-fiction apps include Wattpad, but unlike Radish it doesn’t have a built-in way for writers to make money from their content.

“With the evolution of media we are seeing (intellectual property) and valuable franchises emerging from new platforms,” Sam Wick, head of UTA Ventures, said in a statement. “We see Radish Fiction as a continuation of this trend. Their authors have strong followings that can be translated to other entertainment media.”

Amy Tan, whose novels include “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Kitchen God’s Wife,” said the concept of Radish “makes terrific sense to me.” “The writers get paid immediately — and they still retain copyright and can later publish in another format,” she said in a statement provided by the company. “The most compelling stories are a win-win for readers and writers alike.”

The L.A.-based startup’s round was led by Greylock, Lowercase Partners, SoftBank’s SB Next Media Innovation Fund, UTA, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (the corporate venture arm of German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House) and Sherpa Capital. In addition to Tan, individual investors include ITV chairman Peter Bazalgette; Charlie Songhurst, former head of corporate strategy at Microsoft; billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen; Matt Humphrey, co-founder and CEO of LendingHome; Duncan Clark, founder of BDA China; and investor Jeremy Yap.

Radish also announced that Larry Kirshbaum, former head of Amazon Publishing and ex-CEO of Time Warner Book Group, is a senior adviser. In addition, Ankur Jain, VP of product at Tinder, is joining the board.

The company was co-founded by CEO Seung-Yoon “Sy” Lee, whose previous company was crowdfunded journalism platform Byline Media. According to Lee, a native of South Korea, the micropayment model for fiction has been hugely successful across Asia, with some online writers making several million dollars annually from readers paying for new installments.

“Radish takes serialized storytelling into the 21st century, making it possible for the next Charles Dickens to reach and monetize tales suitable for today’s mobile audience,” Lee said.

Other senior Radish execs include co-founder and CTO Joy Cho, who previously worked as an engineer for Korean companies including NCSoft and Daum; head of product Doohaeng Lee, who headed up the development of Kakopage, a serial-fiction app from Korean messaging platform Kakao; and head of content and operations Paul Baek, a former K-pop singer who was previously director of strategy at entertainment agency Atom Factory.

Radish, based in Los Angeles with offices in Seoul and New York, currently has 17 full-time employees.

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