Brian Sanders, the founder of Penned, opened my eyes to a whole new form of writing when we talked recently: cell phone novels. The first of these appeared in Japan in 2003 and were usually released in several installments of 70- to 100-word chapters.
The amazing part is that these novels were so popular and so widely consumed that publishing houses bought the rights to them. Further, the novels were so popular post-printing that they reached top 10 statuses in Japan.
This form of writing spread across the globe, but it didn’t hit America as hard as it had hit Japan, South Korea, and parts of China. However, Sanders noticed that there was a power to this form of cell phone writing, and he thought that America could benefit from a solid platform.
So when he built Penned he kept the successful, Japanese-inspired model in the back of his mind. What he came up with is a way for users to write 2,000-word stories on their smartphones, create chapters to form a book or blog, and categorize their writing in a hashtag-similar fashion.
He added in a few twists after an efficient analysis of the current mobile market, though. On one end of the spectrum, Sanders noted that we have Facebook and Twitter to post text. On the other, we have Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr to post images.
There is a middle ground that he thought Penned would fit nicely into; he saw a place where social networks could meld together to post both photos and text. So he built in functionalities for following people, adding photos, and seeing aggregated news feed content.
“I don’t want to be an ‘X’ or a ‘Y’, but the easiest way to describe Penned is that it’s Instagram for stories,” says Sanders. “I do want it to be more than a quick little spouting off of opinion: you really have to think about what you post.”
Penned had been in public beta for a while, but exited on December 20 for a full scale launch on iOS with a simultaneous launch of the Penned web-based component. And so far the 55 users that signed on love the platform.
But therein lies a problem that Sanders is acutely aware of: there aren’t thousands of people using Penned yet. Just like a lot of entrepreneurs we cover, Sanders is tackling one aspect of his project at a time, and for now he’s holding to building a strong user base.
That doesn’t mean he has no plans for the future, though, because he is expecting a healthy adoption rate once Penned begins to pick up. He hopes to offer native advertising opportunities for tier two authors as well as writing competitions with big line prizes like meetings with writing agents.
As he pushes forward, one the most exciting parts about Penned for Sanders is the potential audience it could tap. “Anybody can be an author; anybody can use Penned,” he says.