Bookboard Launches App To Encourage Children To Read More By Limiting Their Choices

Bookboard, a subscription service for children’s books, has launched its iPad app, which gives parents and children streaming access to its library of books. Like many kids apps startups, three former Adobe employees, Mike Fitzpatrick, Nigel Pegg, and Fang Chang, founded the company out of personal needs as parents. They came together to develop a service that encourages and develops a child’s love of reading.

Bookboard’s library includes more than 300 books targeted at children ages 2-7. Parents can set up individual profiles for each child, track progress, and adjust the reading difficulty of books.

According to Pegg, who is the CTO, the overarching goal for the company is “What can Bookboard do to motivate kids to spend more time reading?” That ends up driving many of its design decisions, particularly incorporating game dynamics into the app. As kids get older and the system detects changing interests, the app adapts to the growing child.


Bookboard’s secret sauce comes from its librarian Cen Campbell, who defines and applies library organization guidelines to the collection, including classifications, metadata, and reading level assessment. With metadata on hand, the system can tackle two big data problems: 1) unlock relevant “next books to read” and 2) apply collaborative filtering techniques to recommend books.

Unlocking Books – Incorporating Game Dynamics To Motivate

unlockA prevailing psychological theory, “the tyranny of choice,” argues that when provided with too many choices, people feel overwhelmed and overloaded and are, as a result, unlikely to pursue any of the options available. In building out the product, the Bookboard team encountered their big aha moment when they discovered that progressive unlocking was the key to driving engagement of the service. In the beginning, the app presented the entire library to kids. The team noted that the ratio of time spent browsing titles to time spent reading was too high.

Then the team introduced artificial scarcity into the initial set of books that kids could choose from. Kids are motivated to make it through books to see what will come next. The unlocking of more choices over time serves as a reward mechanism. As a result, the time spent reading, as opposed to browsing titles, is now the bulk of time spent within the app. When a book is earned via unlocking, it is read over 75 percent of the time.

As kids progress in the app, they are presented with more book choices. Half of the selections are based on interest matching by looking at subject, characters, genre and theme. Then the rest are generated using collaborative filtering techniques to determine whether “other kids who completed this book also completed that book.”


Challenges Ahead

The service currently does not include bestselling children’s books or Caldecott winners that parents look for. Nor do they have familiar character books like Sesame Street’s Elmo or classics like “Goodnight Moon.” To address this, Bookboard struck content partnerships with Peachtree Publishers and Open Road Integrated Media, a deal that will add popular children’s titles such as the Berenstain Bears and Boxcar Children series to Bookboard’s catalog. While these partnerships will remedy this issue in the long run, the question remains, does the service provide sufficiently engaging content for parents and children to keep them coming back for more?

I had a chance to try out Bookboard with my sons (ages 2 and 5) in the past week. The company has really identified something to keep my kids engaged and motivated, which makes Bookboard stand out among the countless ebook services in the market.

There are two plans to choose from: $29.94 for a six-month subscription, or $8.99 per month. The company also offers a free trial. The app is available now for the iPad. To sign up for a free trial, go to Desktop and Android devices are forthcoming.