[App Fridays] Inside Epic, BYJU’S $500M bet on digital reading for kids

Epic, a Netflix-style digital reading app for kids, strikes a fine balance between educational and fun content. Over a billion books have been read on the app by 50 million users.
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California-based startup Epic made headlines in India last month when edtech decacorn BYJU’S acquired it for a whopping $500 million

Not only was it one of the largest international M&As carried out by an Indian company, but it also signalled BYJU’S growing ambitions in overseas markets. 

Epic, a digital reading platform for kids, has a presence in 90 percent of elementary schools in the US, with two million teachers using the app regularly. Over 50 million kids — up from 20 million last year — aged under 12 use Epic. 

The platform’s growth has been propelled by the pandemic.

Photo: Epic

With school libraries and public reading spaces shut due to the lockdowns, Epic doubled its user base, enthralling young learners with its vast library of immersive reading titles. 

At the time of the buyout, Epic Co-founder and CEO Suren Markosian had shared that over a billion books had been read on the platform since its inception eight years ago.

Following the BYJU’S deal, Epic gained traction on Indian app stores. So far, it has garnered five million installs on Google Play Store, with a rating of 4.3 out of 5. 

Epic app features

Essentially, Epic is a Netflix-style digital library for kids between 6 to 12. 

It houses a collection of more than 40,000 e-books, audiobooks, read-to-me books, graphic novels, comics, interactive learning videos, and quizzes. Users can select a title based on their age and interest area. 

Over 300 publishers including top names like Scholastic, National Geographic, and HarperCollins — have made their titles available on the platform. Some popular titles are Curious George, Goodnight Moon, Sesame Street, Flat Stanley, Ramona Quimby, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Warriors, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and Wings of Fire. 

The app curates a list of top picks, trending reads, award winners, and ‘For You’ titles customised to every user’s age level and reading history. Parents can create up to four profiles on a single account, track their child’s reading progress, and get insights into their engagement levels, and know when their interest starts to dip. 

Epic has garnered 5 million installs on Google Play Store

Epic also lets you download titles, and access them in offline mode

Like Netflix, all titles on Epic are accessible for a monthly or yearly subscription fee. In India, Epic Premium users can pay Rs 899 for a monthly plan, and Rs 7,000 for a yearly one. Non-paid users (Epic Basic) can access limited titles for free. 

In 2019, the platform also debuted Epic Originals, and roped in leading children’s publishers in the US to create exclusive original book series

While parents have to pay for an Epic subscription, the app is free for educators. 

It offers in-class integration, class rosters, assignment tracking, and other features for teachers. The app also gives them the ability to create individual student profiles, assign reading tasks, and grant rewards and badges on completion. 

The app lists over 40,000 reading titles

Why Epic is a disruptive proposition

Children’s content has always been tricky to create. And hence, very few content creators globally have dedicated offerings in this segment. 

But Epic manages to strike a fine balance between educational and fun with its immersive, category-creating product. Not only is there variety on offer, but the app’s high-quality graphics and smooth transitions also make for an engaging user experience. 

Epic’s goal is to introduce children to the concepts of learning through reading, help them achieve fluency in languages, and turn them into “life-long” readers. 

Some parts of it mirror BYJU’S Early Learn app, targeted at kids aged 6-8. However, the latter is more focused on imparting learning through videos than books. 

Epic’s leadership position in US schools is indicative of the fact that kids have a massive appetite for reading despite all the new-age distractions. 

India, which has one of the largest student populations in the world, can only benefit if edgy platforms like this are integrated into legacy school curriculums. 

Even though Epic’s Indian pricing appears a little steep compared to similar OTT offerings in the country, the platform could go on to find acceptance in top-tier users and schools in metros. More so because of the pandemic. 

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Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta