Zoobean, one of many startups to experiment with the “Netflix for kids’ books” business model – meaning, a subscription-based children’s books service where new books arrive monthly – is today shifting to become a broader recommendations platform instead. Going forward, the company aims to become something that’s more like a “Pandora for children’s apps and books,” helpfully pointing parents to personalized content they can buy if they choose.
One of the challenges for services like Zoobean is the cost. For average working parents, a service that was, at launch, charging subscribers $14.95 for the featured, hardcover-bound “book of the month,” can certainly be seen as an unnecessary, or even luxury, expense. That’s especially true given that there are plenty of quality softcover books available for less, discounted titles on Amazon and eBay, free e-book apps for kids, and of course, free books for the borrowing at local libraries.
Co-founder Jordan Lloyd Bookey, previously Google’s head of K-12 Education Outreach, admits that the expense “certainly matters for families,” and that moving to a web-based service is about allowing Zoobean to offer its users more for less. She noted that parents wanted a more personalized learning experience, too.
Before, what made Zoobean interesting was its embrace of books that helped explain all different types of families – something Bookey says she was inspired to create as part of a multi-racial family who wanted to find books where the characters better resembled her own family. The service also pointed to other books about other family structures, characteristics, ethnic and cultural backgrounds – the types of modern books that some smaller libraries may not have in great numbers.
With the new service, Zoobean will now ask parents for more details about their children’s interests, age, and reading level, to help better suggest content. Every five days, a curated app or book recommendation is offered alongside an expert-created reading guide. Parents can then decide to buy the books from their preferred store, or check it out at the library, or download the app from the App Store. Zoobean will earn affiliate income by pointing users to the iTunes App Store or Amazon to make those purchases.
Meanwhile, the subscription-based service launched earlier will continue as “Zoobean Home” at a reduced cost of $9.99 per month by way of a paperback option. Most of Zoobean’s revenue will continue to come from this service, says Bookey, which will later include partnerships with schools and other organizations.
In terms of the content recommendations themselves (called “SmartLists”), the company has expanded its network to include a team of a dozen experts, who are educators or librarians who are also parents. They review and select the books and apps, and add them to the Zoobean library using one or more of over 1,200 tags to help categorize the content.
The SmartList service is more affordable than Zoobean Home, at $9.99 for 6 months or $14.95 per year, and it includes a free 60-day trial. What’s helpful is that it’s more than just recommendations, as parents also receive literacy tips and supplemental activities to accompany each selection.
But Zoobean could still struggle with adoption, despite the reduced barrier to entry thanks to lower costs. After all, the type of parent who would seek out a literacy-focused educational reading service like this is probably comfortable with and capable of finding reading material for their children on their own, as well as coming up with ideas as to how they can enhance the child’s understanding through additional conversations and activities. So the fee, then, is one that’s more about convenience than anything else.
Zoobean competes with other children’s book services, including those from larger companies like Scholastic, as well as smaller startups, like Sproutkin. One of Zoobean’s earlier competitors, The Little Book Club, has however shut down.
Below, an example SmartList: