Creating Motivated Readers: Bookboard’s Subscription Model

by On April 1, 2013 in General

son_readingFor many parents, it’s hard to say “no” when your child’s eyes light up over books. We want to offer them access to any books that inspire them, to take costs out of the equation and just say, “Go for it! Read to your heart’s content!”

Thankfully, libraries operate on this logic. It is also the logic driving the team at Bookboard, a San Francisco Bay Area children’s e-book firm whose co-founders state – intriguingly – “we are not in the business of selling books.”

To find out what they do want to accomplish, I recently sat down with Bookboard’s three co-founders: Michael Fitzpatrick, Fang Chang and Nigel Pegg.  A statement highlighted on their website – we’re parents too – was obvious throughout our conversation.

Nigel emphasized the importance of “having a good North star to follow” as Bookboard defined its mission: to create a reading environment for children that will foster a love of reading and collecting – versus purchasing – books. Ultimately, Bookboard seeks to create readers by motivating kids to read.

Towards this end, the team offers a curated e-book library, available to parents through a subscription versus an a la carte model.

“In-app purchases are all the rage, but it’s inappropriate for kids to spend money within an app. You have the kid nagging mom and dad for a payment.  That’s not the behavior we want to train kids to have,” Nigel stated, adding, “We want to take commerce out of the kid. We just want kids to read!”

For Bookboard, the subscription model “is more of a value-added proposition with kids, in part, because not everything is a transaction with a credit card,” Nigel explained. The subscription model offers parents and children the ability to choose among a library of books, exploring the content freely.

While a la carte ordering makes sense for adults purchasing e-books for themselves, Fang pointed out that kids would have to ask parents’ permission to acquire each book of interest. “Do we really want kids to ask for permission to read?” he asked.

Michael suggested parents ask themselves what they would rather do: “spend your reading hour in the app store doing downloads, or reading?”  He feels that Bookboard offers a “frictionless discovery of new books” for children and their parents.

The subscription model addresses the important goal of providing children access to books.  Findings from the 2013 Kids and Family Reading report (a national survey by Scholastic) found that half of children age 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books (a 50% increase since 2010).

splash_screenWith Bookboard, parents will have immediate access to “the beauty of curated books, optimized for your kids,” said Michael, adding, “From an investment perspective for parents, it’s a no-brainer.”

Currently, the Bookboard library offers over 300 books, tailored up to age 12. Additional titles will be added in ongoing fashion.  “Kids will have exposure to a broader set of reading categories as well,” Fang added.

Michael noted that while Bookboard is “using a lot of technology to make book recommendations, we also have a human being – a children’s librarian – helping us curate.”

Our conversation turned briefly to the evolution of subscription models in music (Spotify, Pandora) and film (Netflix). Michael explained that the subscription concept is still pretty new among traditional children’s book publishers. “Every publisher has to get their head around it,” he observed.

“It’s important to understand that we didn’t choose subscriptions because it’s a business model innovation,” Fang stressed. “Rather, it allows us to focus on the child and help foster a love of reading.”

Does the Bookboard team anticipate parental resistance to the subscription model?

“Parents usually want to know ‘how much of a commitment will it be? What will I get, what value, what quantity?’” explained Michael.  He also observes what he calls the “99 cents mentality,” reflecting consumer-purchasing patterns in app stores.

“Many people view 99 cents as ‘no biggee’ cost-wise and may see that small expense as preferable to a subscription payment. Yet in reality, those 99 cent purchases start to add up to amounts that may surprise you,” Michael observed.

Parents wary of diving into subscriptions will be pleased with Bookboard’s “try before they buy” approach. Families will have the opportunity to explore, and children have time to experience Bookboard’s “unlock a book” feature to see their library expanding. They can then make a choice to subscribe at 8.99 per month, or $4.99 per month with a six-month commitment.

Fang stressed that parents aren’t paying more with Bookboard. “The research shows that parents pay, on average, $80 per year on print books,” he explained, adding,  ”We’re less about telling parents they are saving more and more about successfully creating an environment where children are reading more.”

The Bookboard staff wants to grow in partnership with families. Nigel observed that “subscriptions give us an opportunity to be around – not just one and done. We want kids to build a relationship with reading, and to have a feeling that ‘there are more books coming because I’m reading, trying, getting better at this.’”

“Ultimately, we want to have a relationship with our users that is about something more than a 99 cents transaction,” he said, adding,  “Both of our incentives are aligned. You want your kids to be readers and motivated, and so do we.”

Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.

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