What to Do With Those Extra 15 Minutes

Have 15 minutes to spare? A growing number of companies are finding ways to help people work snippets of culture and entertainment into their busy lives.

Earlier this week New York Public Radio launched a new “Discover” feature within its WNYC app. Users type in how much time they have to listen, and the app automatically downloads a custom mix of radio segments to fill that slot. “Take it on your commute, it works underground,” suggests NYPR, an affiliate of National Public Radio, in an online video. “Take it jogging … or listen while you’re cooking.”

Discover also delivers an element of surprise. Essentially a Pandora for public radio’s talk programs, it selects shows based on each user’s stated topic preferences—politics to pop culture, business to books. The app pulls content from local stations WNYC and WQXR, as well as national NPR shows such as Planet Money, This American Life, All Things Considered, and Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.

Podcasts aside, there’s also a growing number of tools for readers on the go. Longreads, a site offering quality long-form stories online, has long included a feature that tells readers approximately how much time is required per story (anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour).

Now there’s also an iPhone app called Rooster designed to feed books to busy people in bite-size chunks. Launched on March 11, Rooster sends two novels to your phone each month, one classic and one contemporary. This month’s pairing, according to the Washington Post, is Herman Melville’s Billy Budd and a literary thriller titled I Was Here, written for Rooster’s serialized format by Rachel Kadish. Next month’s offering will be The Mind-Body Problem, a 1983 novel by the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and The Kreutzer Sonata, by Tolstoy. The books arrive in easily digestible installments. “A 500-page novel may seem daunting to dig into when tackled head on, but when broken into 15-minute segments, it’s clear how easily it can fit into readers’ lives,” the company says.

Rooster subscribers pay $4.99 a month for the app, which lets them adjust text size, font style, and background color for maximum iPhone reading comfort. By choosing books, Rooster also aims to eliminate that feeling of paralysis sometimes inflicted by too many options.

Plympton, the San Francisco media tech startup behind Rooster, has a long list of influential backers, including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Andrew McCollum, co-founder of Facebook. Clearly, they believe—or hope—this app will help boost our meager fiction intake: According to a survey conducted last year by YouGov and the Huffington Post, 41 percent of Americans hadn’t read a single work of fiction in the previous year.

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