Parents weren’t interested in a “Netflix for Children’s Books” service, apparently. A company called Sproutkin, which launched in spring of 2013 offering shipments of just under a dozen books which parents paid for on a monthly basis but could return at any time for a new batch. The idea was that, in their younger years, kids quickly outgrew their books, and this would be a more affordable option than running out to the bookstore or buying new books from Amazon all the time.
But Sproutkin recently offloaded its book rental service, and is now focused on going digital instead.
The company sold its service to the online toy rental service Sparkbox Toys in an all-cash deal which saw the acquirer gaining the physical books and the customer base, but not the Sproutkin team or technology. Sparkbox already has the infrastructure to continue to service Sproutkin’s customers, as it runs a service that lets parents rent toys which are shipped out via the mail. (4 toys per month for $34.99, or 4 toys for 8 weeks for $19.99 per month.)
The acquirer itself is a small company of just five people and only 1,000 subscribers, though owner Max Gover says they’ve doubled in size over the past year.
Sproutkin, however, was even smaller. Its customer count was about 5% of Sparkbox’s subscriber base to give you an idea of how little the company had grown. “Netflix for kids’ books” was a total flop.
“[Sproutkin was] much smaller and had scale concerns – the real overhead is the rent, the physical product and the team to fulfill,” explains Gover. “Obviously, we have all that, so we can pretty easily tack on another rental service, which is complementary to our existing educational toy rental.”
New York-based Sparkbox now has Sproutkin’s over 200 titles across 20 curated book rental sets of 10 book each, including a few baby sets with toys.
Sproutkin, meanwhile, is launching a digital children’s book subscription library for mobile devices. Its app is already live on the App Store in beta, where it’s disingenuously using media quotes (including ours) to tout the company’s app. (To be clear, we only covered Sproutkin as a book rental service, never on mobile. And we were fairly critical – pointing out that the price point of $25/month was not likely going to work.)
App users will be able to trial the new Sproutkin service for free, then upgrade to via in-app purchase for $4.99/month. This is where competing services like Farfaria, MeeGenius, and PlayKids (books, games and shows) clock in for their monthly subscriptions, though it’s more expensive than buying one-off books in apps like Read Me Stories or iStoryTime.
Sproutkin isn’t the only Netflix for Kids’ Books service to bite the dust. The Little Book Club is also no more. (It, too, was $25/month.)
The problem with both of these services is that they thought by adding curation and a bit of technology they could convince parents to pay for a problem most already consider solved. We’re not in desperate need of new books – they arrive as birthday and holiday gifts, from grandparents and other relatives. We buy them at yard sales, and get them as hand-me downs. We order them from school book fairs or from Amazon. And, sometimes, we even buy a few from the local B&N.
And then there’s the original book rental service that hasn’t quite gone out of style just yet: the public library.