December 6, 2016
Telepathic™ wants you to pay for Hoots™ on Hooked™, a new “Twitter™ for fiction” reading app for the Snapchat Generation™
by Chad Felix
Readers, book tech is almost always bad — and with Hooked, the utterly confounding “Twitter for fiction” reading app created for “the Snapchat generation,” the “narrative technology company” Telepathic has backhand sprung right into line.
Hooked is, it thinks, like all book techs think, revolutionary, and its premise, like most book techs’, is insultingly simple. What if reading a great book consisted of the exact same set of actions as viewing text messages? But instead of this text conversation being interactive (like when you, you know, text with your friends, making plans and such), you can only read scripted messages from characters: one message for every time you smash next.
To be clear, Hooked does not actually text you the next part of a story, which is, inevitably, some banal bit of dialogue. That would be stupid but also kind of cool. Rather, you access Hooked as you would any mobile app: by opening it, at which point you can select a story (though upon first open, Hooked selected a story for me, erroneously I think; indeed, the app is not easy to navigate) and the corresponding chat window.
So this is, in short, Telepathic’s idea of the experience of reading a book — or at least their idea of the kind of reading experience they can sell to young people, their target demographic. This dialogue between strangers that you know virtually nothing about (character development is not a necessary element of fiction for these writers and developers, apparently) is the book, or “book,” you are ultimately paying them for.
And indeed you will pay — in Hoots. What. Okay. Hoots are Hooked currency, which you can purchase with real currency. As you read along, utterly engrossed (imaginably), you will eventually be alerted that “you’ve run out of hoots,” which will only recharge after thirty-plus minutes. That is, unless you “speed up time” and “become a superhoot” for $2.99 per week, $7.99 per month, or $39.99 per year. Okay.
But we’ve been here before! Mad, I mean, about a developer giddily steamrolling the complex natures of books, writers, and readers alike. But Hooked differs even from its own compatriots-in-tech. One can understand, for example, committing to certain mobile reading apps, if, in exchange, these apps enable you to understand the basic points of popular books in a fraction of the time it would actually take to read the things. This can be useful in scenarios including job interviews, exams, and cocktail parties. This idea already exists: Instareads, for example, is an app that converts popular books like Deepak Chopra’s Super Genes or David Cay Johnston’s The Making of Donald Trump into commute-sized illustrated morsels. An app like this serves a clear function; it bulldozes nuance, but not for nothing.
Thankfully, writers won’t suffer much here. This is because Hooked does not seem to feature any well-known authors at all. In fact, the “books” included with the app (sample titles: Friendship, Guilty, Crossing, The Interrogation, Seeing is Believing, and Date Me), though attributed to various people, are not written by anyone you (or the internet) have heard of. These are not books in the sense that you could find them at a bookstore. They are pure content — inane, boring content at that:
Hooked’s expressed function is to engage a generation its developers define, in effect, as non-readers — to make them into book readers, which is a nice enough thought. Unfortunately for everyone involved, what Hooked offers isn’t at all what book-reading looks, reads, or feels like.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.