Today Vancouver-based Storypanda announced the launch of its free iPad app, which allows kids and parents to create, and read customized ebooks and share them with friends and family. The company is part of the latest 500 Startups class, and has received seed funding from the startup accelerator. Aimed at kids aged two to eight years old, the app launches with four ebooks, one paid title and three free ones.
Co-founders James Chutter and Pavel Bains started working on the company a year ago, and released an alpha version of the app in November 2011. Bains has three children, and he said the idea for the app came from downloading children’s books on his iPad. He found he would often read a book once and never come back to it. “We found those were all one-off items, in the sense that you read a book and you might come back to it, and you might not,” Bains said in an interview. He wanted to give parents a way to constantly have access to new content while also providing interactivity for kids.
The company allows kids and parents to customize books, everything from the characters and storylines, to the text, to the colours and backgrounds. Rather than give kids a blank slate, Storypanda provides a base story, and allow kids to “remix” it by swapping out text and characters. Kids can either read a book as-is, or choose the “create” option within the app, and a pencil pops up to show where customization options are available.
The app also features a private social network, so books can be shared with approved friends and family members, though Bains said they won’t be integrating with social networks like Twitter and Facebook in order to respect users’ privacy. He said the idea of their internal social network is similar to Disney’s Club Penguin online community for kids. “That’s what we want to do for interactive books,” Bains said. “Every parent knows that they can load up Storypanda, there will be good books on there. I’ll discover new books [through the app], and I don’t mind my kids playing there all the time because they’re not out on the web.”
The app is free, and a limited number of books will be available for free, while additional books will be available to purchase for anywhere between $1 and $5, depending on the interactivity of the book. The company is working on forming partnerships with content providers, children’s authors, and publishers in order to create custom books and license existing titles, and they also create their own books in-house. Bains said they’ll be adding additional books by July, with new releases planned every month. All of the free books currently available on the app are written by co-founder Chutter, with the paid story coming from Anorak Magazine.
The emergence of kid-friendly iPad apps has been well-documented, with games, digital magazines, and learning apps winning favour with both kids and parents. Storypanda investor 500 Startups recently held the Mama Bear Family Tech conference focused on mom and kid-friendly tech, so their investors likely have the right connections to big industry players for partnerships and integrations. While Storypanda has interactivity kids will likely love, and a price per book that’s friendly for adults, it lacks the popular titles that kids often flock to. With a couple big-name authors or titles on board, the app could gain a large audience of parents and kids alike.