“Longform” is a buzzword these days and it’s generally used to refer to nonfiction works for adults. But Toronto-based illustrated storytelling platform Storybird thinks longform can work for a younger crowd, too, and this week it rolled out options that let writers serialize longer illustrated works. Until now, Storybird’s two available formats were picture books and poetry.
“Eighty percent of our audience is between [the ages of] seven and fifteen,” Storybird co-founder and CEO Mark Ury told me, with a “core” of 9 to 14-year-olds. In all, Storybird says it has about 4 million users. “The picture book format has served us well, but it’s a format that doesn’t suit longform stories, and it feels a little young,” Ury said. “With longform, we’re catching up with our community.”
So is Storybird trying to become more like Wattpad — the other, and more well-known, Canadian collaborative storytelling platform that recently raised $46 million to expand internationally? Ury insisted otherwise: “Our focus will always be art-inspired and enhanced stories,” he said, aand “we’re a family brand…we’re looking for the next Harry Potter, not Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Storybird also wants schools and libraries to adopt its product; it’s used in over 300,000 classrooms today. “We’re more similar to [children’s publisher] Scholastic than Wattpad,” Ury said.
In that vein, one of Storybird’s paths to monetization is becoming a publisher. Last year the company hired Molly O’Neill, a former editor at HarperCollins (where she acquired the hit Divergent trilogy), as its editorial director. And Ury said he sees the launch of the longform platform as a possible commercial opportunity for some authors and illustrators. Storybird has already launched ten sample longform projects, which Ury said are “the basis for experimentation with promotion and commercialization,” whether it’s “working with publishers and traditional channels” or launching “our own branded subscription service.”
Storybird has raised about $4 million, with investors including Index Ventures, High Line and Lerer Ventures, among others.