A subscription model, both lending and buying options, educational experts, personalised boxes and a bespoke algorithm - this London startup is throwing everything at the problem of getting more kids to read.
Bookabees is a subscription book club for children, launched to "inspire reading, keep storytelling magical and get more of the right books into more children’s hands".
Aiming to combine a children’s library, bookshop and subscription box in one, the club offers children a monthly personalised box with their name on the front, featuring books, activities and stickers. Educational experts handpick the books - or parents, together with their children, can go online and choose ones they’d prefer. Once read, the book(s) can either be kept for up to two months and returned (in a pre-paid delivery box with no added cost) or kept forever for 50% of the retail price.
"Nurturing a love of reading is on all parents’ minds, however it can be financially challenging and difficult to implement," says founder Adrian Dawe. "With a small monthly subscription cost, through Bookabees a parent has the chance to provide a wonderful experience that not only enriches their child’s education but also helps develop a life long love of reading."
Dawe, a one-time finance director, set up Bookabees after being alarmed by reports around the decline children’s reading. "Statistics show that only 40% of England’s 10-year olds have a positive attitude to reading (The Reading Agency), 25% of children cannot read well by the time they leave primary school (Save the Children), 32% of children cannot find books to read which interest them (National Literacy Trust) and over 350 local libraries have closed in the past few years (Chartered Institute of Librarians)" he reports.
“Despite being surrounded by teachers from a young age, reading for me was neither fun nor magical - it was too hard and I switched off. As an adult I realised what I had missed out on and I’m determined my own son, and many more children like him, discover the joy of reading and see it as a hugely positive experience”,
Dawe co-founded Bookabees with Nathan Vingoe and Caroline Jary. Vingoe provides the tech nous - he created the algorithm that combines educational experts' views with subscribers’ favourites to help tailor book choices to every child. Jary is a mum and marketeer who joined the team after experiencing the Bookabees effect first hand with her son, Finley.
The team's wider network incorporates a community of educational experts who assist in book selection, trending themes and educational tips.
What's the gap in the market?
“All the evidence shows that one of the best gifts a child can receive is to become a proficient and passionate reader," Dawe says. "However, lives are busy and packed full of other entertainment options so parents are struggling to harness and maintain their children’s enthusiasm for reading.”
The team feel that Bookabees helps fill a gap created by the loss, and decrease in use, of many community libraries. They're also keen to emphasise that their algorithms and experts will help children find books that truly interest them, and that the platform offers an experience that helps create a bond between the parent and child.
The minimum entry point is £4.99 a month, but Bookabees is also developing partnerships with schools in London to trial free subscription book boxes for children where pupil premium school funding is available.
Success so far
Bookabees launched in time for Christmas 2016 and the press response has been positive. The Guardian called it a “a clever book club” and the Daily Mail said it can “get any child excited about reading”. The company received an award from Made-for-Mums in 2017 and has been shortlisted again in 2018.
In terms of stats, Dawe reports that over 80% of subscribers who join Bookabees are found to be actively using the service a year later and that, on average, 40% of the books sent out are purchased by the subscriber.
Bookabees has also forged partnerships with Usborne, Quarto Publishing, David Higham Associates and Barefoot Books.
For Dawe, it's all about “launching the business whilst balancing family life.”
Vingoe, in turn, has had his work cut out “creating an efficient and operable algorithm to manage the process of book selection that intelligently matches, in collaboration with our educational experts, a reader’s interests with our book library.”
Meanwhile, Jary's challenge is all about ”gaining the attention and then trust of parents to try this new way to ignite an excitement in reading."
“Our research suggests a UK child on average only receives three library and three new books per annum," Dawe reports. "We want to double those numbers through helping parents reduce screen time and creating more bookworms of all ages.”
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
“Be original and build something you can truly see yourself being a customer of," Dawe insists. "Speak and liaise with your whole network about the idea and actively seek their challenge before spending a penny. Bookabees went through tens of iterations before we landed on the current proposition.”
Bookabees is looking for authors, literary agents and publishers who would like their books to be offered through the club. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.