Bookboard tries Netflix-like model for kids’ ebooks

Former Adobe (s ADBE) executives Fang Chang and Nigel Pegg know that kids love iPads (s AAPL), and they wanted to offer them something more educational than YouTube (s GOOG) or Angry Birds. So they are launching Bookboard, an iPad app that gives parents and kids streaming access to a library of children’s ebooks.

Burlingame, Calif.–based Bookboard, which is available in public beta Monday, has 300 children’s books available from publishers Charlesbridge, Orca, Twin Sisters, Illumination Arts and Bubblegum Books. After parents create accounts for their children, including the kids’ names and ages, the children can choose from a selection of digital picture books. “We want to create an addictive chain reading experience,” Pegg told me. The more kids read, the more books they unlock.

Bookboard titles are not enhanced with widgets, games, or other interactivity features (other than an ability to tap on text to enlarge it). The company says that is intentional, to leave the focus on the reading experience.

Bookboard will be free during the public beta. The company plans a full commercial launch in the first quarter of 2013 and expects monthly subscriptions will cost between $5 and $10, with more premium content and add-ons available in the future.

Publishers receive royalties based on number of pages read and “how well their content does within our platform,” Pegg said. (The publishers are not paid during the free beta period.) One of the participating publishers I spoke with also said that Bookboard is paying them an advance, though the company would not comment on that. It appears that different publishers may have different licensing agreements and as Bookboard tries to get larger children’s publishers to sign up it may have to pay them more.

Many startups would like to be “the Netflix of ebooks,” charging a monthly fee for unlimited access to streaming titles. Among those trying it are Oyster and Spanish company 24symbols. However, it it is very difficult to get this model to work. Publishers may not see the financial upside and author contracts may not include clauses that allow this type of access to their titles. Chang told me that “publishers are being a lot more savvy these days, making sure they obtain the digital rights for these books.” Digital rights don’t necessarily cover streaming or subscription models, though, leaving it unclear how an author will be paid when their books are accessed through this type of model. Melanie Jeffs, the director of digital at Orca, told me, “We pay our authors royalties on all revenue generated from their books whether the project is digital or print,” and authors will be paid when their books are included on Bookboard.

Bookboard takes ebook files and enhances them so that they are streamable. “We’ve created backend tools that divide the content up or chunk it, similar to video streams,” Pegg told me, so that you don’t have to download a whole ebook at once. The company is also working on some offline options.

Bookboard has raised $500,000 from friends and family and is now raising another funding round.