How HMH's Subscription Platform "Curious World" Earned Half A Million Installs in 6 Months
In October 2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt launched its first subscription platform Curious World, an early learning app for children between the ages of 3 and 7. EVP and chief of consumer brands & strategy CJ Kettler says the launch was driven by the emergence of a new generation of parents that prefer to subscribe to their favorite forms of media, whether that’s through Netflix or Spotify. “We see this opportunity for subscription services where millennial parents will want a platform that provides content for their children, and we believe Curious World can fill that need.”
Consumers seem to agree. Since launch, Curious World has earned over 500,000 paid installations and has seen user engagement rise. Kettler credits this to her team’s dedication to user experience and constant iteration based on user feedback.
Priced at $7.99 a month or $64.99 a year, Curious World offers original and licensed video, games, and ebooks that guide children through eight learning areas. Those areas range from Literacy & Language to Math and Family & Community. In addition, parents can access the app to view a dashboard that tracks how often their children have accessed Curious World, how many minutes they’ve spent reading, watching video, or playing games, and what learning areas they have engaged with most. “I think what we’re seeing is the parents trust HMH. We do a lot of user experience testing. And we’ve seen that parents will hand over the device knowing that their kids are going to learn something.”
Kettler notes that the Curious World platform is only the first step in HMH’s lifecycle marketing strategy. As Curious World users grow up, HMH’s consumer team will develop new products to guide them on their learning journey. And insights gleaned from Curious World will likely inform some of those future products, she says.
In the following interview Kettler explains how HMH’s consumer team created Curious World and why it has earned a warm reception from families.
What inspired the launch of Curious World?
We’ve made a pretty serious commitment as a company to the consumer space, specifically the early learning space. Curious World is all about serving families and helping parents on their kids’ learning journey. When we launched Curious World we were proud of the fact that the content service fills the need in the marketplace where more and more next generation parents are becoming chord cutters.
How has HMH marketed Curious World and how has it been received since the launch?
We launched it formally in October and we’re thrilled with the success so far. We’re marketing through social media as well as all forms of digital marketing. We have about half a million premium installs to date. So far we’re only six months in so it’s pretty exciting to see the adoption in the marketplace.
How did HMH build this app?
We built it internally with a team inside of HMH. It is primarily a content service so building a wrapper that enables that content to live inside was really the crux of the technology. We’re quite proud of the fact that we could do that internally.
We looked at all corners of the company to generate a library for Curious World. We have content that came from our trade publishing division in the form of ebooks, videos from K-12 group that were appropriate for the younger audience, and then of course we borrowed and created quite a lot of original content.
How much of this content is original to HMH versus third party content?
It’s still early days. We’re very thrilled with licensed content because we do a very serious job of making sure that it aligns to these learning areas for parents. Then they can come to know and trust our judgment on what kind of content is right for their kids in terms of learning. But we also built 150 pieces of original content. Currently we have about 600 pieces of content on the service. Having about a quarter of our content as original is quite strong. And we’ll continue to make original content.
What are some of the challenges that come with creating these new types of content that are in the Curious World platform?
I would say the biggest challenge is in games. Video is a standard format that is pretty easy to create and build into a platform. In the world of game development, there is no standard format, so [creating] a standard is something that one has to do. That was one of the challenges we had to work out technically in the very beginning. Now that we’ve made those standards it gets easier.
What type of engagement metrics are you seeing?
There is a lot of usage, a lot of time on the device, and a lot of repeat visits. When a parent subscribes, they get a dashboard so they also see what their child is doing on the app. They can track themselves, whether they seem to be more drawn to Social & Emotional, versus Math, versus Science. Then parents can encourage their children to do more of what they like or try more of the topics they haven’t looked at yet.
How have the data insights informed your decision-making with the platform?
All consumer products, in my view are iterative, and if they’re not they just sit on the shelf and rot. We’re very focused on the user experience. User experience is at the core of building any consumer product so watching the usage and iterating and improving the experience over time is important. It doesn't mean what you built the first time wasn’t right, but you can always iterate. I think that’s key to winning the hearts and minds of the consumer market.
How might Curious World evolve in the future?
I think Curious World is not just Curious World. It’s a company. We will continue to iterate and refine the content as well as the product. There are always features and functionalities that you see upon launch and you’re constantly iterating to make it better for the user. But we’ll also continue to release other apps. We have Curious George in the works and other app properties that we will also release.
Will HMH develop other subscription platforms?
We’re very focused on diversified revenue strategies so we won’t release everything on a subscription basis. For young children we don’t tend to do ad-supported but for the older end of our audience, we do. Channel 1 and CliffsNotes are ad-supported. Some of the apps provide in-app purchasing like Carmen San Diego and of course subscription with Curious World.
What have you learned about subscription services since launching this platform?
Subscription is a very interesting model. As I talk about it with young startups that are trying to do subscription, it is definitely a long game strategy. Subscription requires a commitment for the long haul to generate loyalty at launch from the customer base. We’re very focused on that, and our goal is to serve a family and then provide other products over time. As that child grows, there will be other products that we share with that family over the long haul.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.