Teen Writing Site Figment Gets New Funding, Moves Into Book Publishing

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Figment, a site started by two Conde Nast veterans that is trying to capitalize on the absence of viable communities for book readers online, has secured $1 million in funding from an angel investor. The site targets 13- to 24-year-olds, a demographic that is already actively and passionately reading and discussing books online, but often primarily on author sites and niche fan blogs. Figment, and the publishers who pay it to market their books, is trying to centralize those disparate conversations.

Figment was cofounded by Jacob Lewis, former Managing Editor of the New Yorker and Conde Nast Portfolio, and Dana Goodyear, a current New Yorker staff writer. It was inspired by Goodyear’s 2008 piece on Japanese teenagers writing books from their mobile phones. The site came out of beta in December, and now has 35,000 members sharing over 75,000 pieces of writing. One to two thousand new members sign up each week, and the site adds between 500 and 600 pieces of new content every day. Ten percent of members access the site primarily through their phones.

Teenagers are a prime target for publishers’ marketing efforts because they spend so much time online and are particularly open to contests and social-networking campaigns. They can spread the word about their favorite books to their friends and followers via social networks, and many books that were originally aimed at them–such as Twilight and The Hunger Games–have exhibited huge crossover appeal to adult audiences.

Lewis wouldn’t disclose the identity of its new investor, but said most of the money it’s raised will go to develop new sales, distribution and marketing models. At the end of this month, Figment will launch a writing contest judged by novelist Paolo Coelho, whose novel The Alchemist sold 65 million copies worldwide. Coelho will post the winning story on his blog.

This fall, Figment will publish a new book, Dream School, by young adult novelist Blake Nelson. The book is a sequel to Nelson’s Girl, which was serialized by Sassy Magazine in the 1990s and re-released by Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS) in 2007. Lewis says that Nelson did not shop Dream School to any other publishers and is in a partnership with Figment for this book only, with the two parties sharing the royalties. Publishers Group West will distribute Dream School online and as a limited-edition print book.

Future plans for the site include a marketplace where authors–both professional and amateur–and book publishers can sell their works. Over a dozen publishers, including Random House, Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette and Perseus are already paying to market their books and authors on the site. While Lewis would not provide specific financial details, he said publishers generally pay in the range of a few thousand dollars for initiatives that range from contests and polls to posting book excerpts.

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