MeeGenius Leads Crowded Field of Interactive E-book Apps for Kids
Teaching children how to read often calls for a bit of demonstration to help them understand how words should sound and what they look like. A bevy of companies with e-reader apps want their share of the growing market of young readers, and MeeGenius in New York believes it can stand out by combining narration with the act of reading.
MeeGenius recently raised more than $2.4 million in a Series A round from Sunrise Capital, Broadway Angels, and angel investors. Wandy Hoh, CEO and co-founder of the company, says MeeGenius plans to expand its development, design, and editorial staff, as well as release new features for the app by year’s end.
MeeGenius’s app, much like other e-readers on the market, offers kids a lively interface to draw their attention, but it also includes such features as audio narrators who read the stories in ways comparable to parents or caregivers telling tales. Aimed at children eight years old and younger, the app also includes a text highlighting feature that helps kids to pick out words they may have trouble understanding. “A lot of it is a puzzle for kids,” Hoh says, “figuring out which letters make what sounds.”
She says her three-year-old company focused on the way kids would use the app as they discovered new books. “It’s not easy to get the user experience right for kids when it comes to reading,” she says. Hoh says she wanted to make the MeeGenius app available across multiple devices and platforms. So the app, released to the public in 2010, is available for Apple iOS and Android devices, the Google Chrome Web browser, and Google TV.
Keeping kids’ attention can be difficult, but Hoh says she steered away from overloading the MeeGenius app with games, videos, and other types of interactivity that some e-readers for kids use. Her strategy is to focus on reading but wants to offer more than simply digitizing the text from books. “Children don’t find that interesting,” she says.
MeeGenius’s catalog currently comprises more than 1,000 titles, which all include narration that readers can turn on and off as they read. Hoh says the narration needed to be more than a robotic, text-to-speech playback in order to help readers understand the material. “When you are a small child, you need to be read to in an engaging way,” she says. Prior to launching MeeGenius, Hoh spent nearly ten years on Wall Street in private equity and investment banking including as vice president of Pomona Capital. A mother of three, she says she wanted to make reading more interactive for children.
Other players in this sector are also trying novel ways to attract young readers to e-books. Scholastic’s Storia e-reading app for children offers a number of features including a dictionary that defines and pronounces words that kids highlight in the text. Select titles available through Storia also use word games, animation and other forms of interaction to keep kids interested. Parents can also track how many pages and how long their children read e-books through Storia.
MeeGenius works with undisclosed book publishers as well as independent authors of children’s titles. The company also connects independent authors with editors and illustrators to help them complete the finishing touches for the e-books. Hoh says MeeGenius launched its app—on the same day the original iPad hit the market—with self-produced titles in order to get the ball rolling. Now more than 800 schools in the U.S. and Canada use the MeeGenius app as a library tool, she says. All titles are reviewed, she says, by an editor before being made available for purchase.
New features to improve reading comprehension are in the works, according to Hoh. These may include interactive questions about the characters in the titles. The goal is to get kids more involved in the story to increase their desire to learn.
Hoh would not give more details, but she expects to release upgrades to the app later this year. Thus far she believes the features her company offers have not been duplicated by some larger rivals. “If you go on Amazon right now, you’re not going to find an e-book that has narration and word highlighting,” Hoh says. “On MeeGenius, that’s a basic requirement.”