Berlin-based startup Blloon has launched an app that aims to get more young people reading ebooks by applying a freemium model to the medium — gifting a certain number of pages (1,000) when a user signs up, so they can get started reading straight away. That’s enough freebie pages to read up to three full books.
The target market here is 18 to 28 year olds — a group the app maker reckons needs some freemium encouragement to engage with ebooks. App users can earn additional free pages by doing things like sharing the ebooks they are reading and writing reviews.
There are also in-app purchases for voracious readers to keep pace with their ebook consumption — by buying top-ups of 100 pages for £1.29, or shelling out on monthly premium memberships: £3.99 for 500 pages, or £6.99 for 1,000 pages. Premium members get to rollover any unused pages for a period of 12 months.
The app launched this week and is a free download on iOS (with both an iPhone and an iPad version available).
It’s a pleasing design, with book covers displayed in a scrollable stack, each with individual descriptions when you tap through. It’s also organizing book content to appeal to its target youth market with various curated reading lists to help with discovery.
Blloon says it has “almost” one million books on tap at this early point but adds that it plans to ramp that number up significantly by Christmas.
“We are looking at an 18-28 year old demographic (students, first job, young professionals, male & female) – people who read but are quite casual in their reading habits,” says founder Thomas Leliveld, who spent four years working in the publishing and ebook industry prior to founding Blloon this summer.
“We’re creating and frequently updating Readlists to reflect the lives of our users in specific moments or moods, for example ‘Make me Laugh’, ‘Single Life’ or ‘The London Film Festival’. In the future we see it feasible that members of Blloon can create, rate and share these Readlists and earn pages upon creating the most loved Readlists. This is similar to what exists in some music services (playlists).”
“According to recent studies, the younger generation believes firmly that eBooks are too expensive. Blloon addressed that by allowing the users to read free,” he adds, discussing the e-reading niche the app is targeting.
“Secondly, young people aren’t yet engaged with eBooks and we want them to be. They read frequently on their phones and tablets, we know this, but they haven’t yet found a platform that engages with them fits their lifestyle better.”
Blloon’s gamification elements, its easy to use mobile interface and of course the ability to read at least some of an ebook for free while on the go on your phone or tablet, are all elements Leliveld hopes will “introduce a new generation to reading eBooks”.
At launch the app has titles from publishers including Allen & Unwin, Diversion Books, Faber Factory, Guardian Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lonely Planet, Open Road Media, Profile, RosettaBooks and Workman Publishing. It’s also working with publisher title distributors such as Ingram Content Group and Gardners to be able to offer titles from a wider range of publishers.
The service competes with the likes of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited offering, which costs $9.99 per month, but Blloon’s founder have made a deliberate decision not to offer an unlimited tier — on the grounds that it’s not something the majority of readers will need and because it would require the monthly fee to be higher.
“We don’t offer an unlimited package, simply because we don’t believe the majority of readers needs 10+ a month,” says Leliveld. “Offering an unlimited volume of books requires a service to charge too high a monthly price. Instead Blloon offers the right quantity and quality of titles for realistic reading habits, at a much more attractive price point (£3.99 a month). If a member of this service wants to read more, he/she can always invite others or review a book to earn more pages (books).”
So it’s deliberately undercutting Amazon on pricing, by offering one lowered priced monthly offer and pay-as-you-go top-ups — while putting limits on the quantity of books the user can access without additional action or payment.
Although it also claims to have more high-profile publishers signed up at launch than Amazon. Plus it’s throwing in the ability for readers to earn themselves more free pages if they engage with its platform as an added incentive.
“If a member of this service wants to read more, he/she can always invite others or review a book to earn more pages (books),” says Leliveld. “Another differentiator is the quality of the books in the catalogue. With high-profile publishing deals and more to come soon, we are able to offer well-known best-selling books and authors,” he adds.
Other startups in the ebooks service space that Leliveld name-checks include KU in the U.K. and Oyster in the US.
Blloon is in the process of closing its first round of funding — due to book that this month — with the seed investment coming from “European VC and strategic sources and angel investors”. It’s not disclosing the size of the round until it’s in the bag.