Fresh from announcing impressive company growth and an infusion of $30 million in new funding, Redwood, Calif.-based kids’ digital reading platform Epic has kicked off an exclusive, original content program. The Epic Originals collection of books and videos goes live today with the release of titles Cat Ninja by Matthew Cody, illustrated by Yehudi Mercado, My Pet Slime by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Renee Kurilla, and Scaredy Monster: Scaredy Monster Loses a Tooth by Meika Hashimoto, illustrated by Steve Lambe.
In January, Epic secured $30 million in funding led by Evolution Media, the global tech, media and entertainment investment company partnered with TPG and Creative Artists Agency. That same month, Epic announced several five-year milestones, revealing that the subscription service now reaches 10 million children and that 500 million books have been read on its platform since it launched in 2014. Epic’s content library now contains more than 35,000 items—books, videos, and audiobooks—from more than 250 publishers including HarperCollins, Macmillan, National Geographic Kids, and Sesame Workshop.
Developing original content is a direct result of these recent developments. “We’ll continue to expand the partnerships with our publishers, but it just made sense to us to do something that kids couldn’t find anywhere else in the world, that was unique to us,” Epic cofounder Kevin Donahue said.
Epic quietly completed a soft, beta-type launch of a few originals on its platform beginning with Nellie Nutgraf: The Double-Best Reporter in History: A Hot Story by Tom Angleberger in October 2018. Undersea Mystery Club: Problem at the Playground by Courtney Carbone, illustrated by Melanie Demmer is one of four additional titles that trickled onto the Epic platform early this year.
“We put a couple books into the service to gather data,” Donahue said. “We wanted to see how kids would react to the books, and how the titles would perform before jumping in with both feet to create the Originals area of the site.” The results were “great,” according to Donahue. Since October, the Epic Originals collection racked up nearly three million reads on the platform, and kids read Undersea Mystery Club: Problem at the Playground, about a mermaid and a narwhal solving mysteries, more than 200,000 times in its first week of release.
“The funding was a big part” of Epic’s new direction, Donahue said. “We had to build a team that could help us create world class content and that’s the catalyst. We had been thinking for a long time that original content would be a great addition, but just didn’t have the opportunity before now.”
The Epic Originals line is led by author-illustrator and animator Eric Wight, known for his comic books and graphic novels (My Dead Girlfriend; the Frankie Pickle series). He works with a small team of people in-house and Christine Griswold serves as educational consultant for the books, to ensure that the titles have engaging, relatable, and age-appropriate educational elements. A number of independent contractors collaborate with Wight’s team at various levels, and, Donahue said. “We now have a large network of creators—authors and illustrators—who we’re talking to about doing some things, and, we also have partners on the video side, helping us create some videos.” As examples, he mentioned the My Pet Slime supplemental video, a live-action piece featuring a DIY activity of making slime, and the Scaredy Monster video entry, which is an animated version of the book.
“We don’t have a set number of books that we have committed to at this time,” Donahue said of the scope for Epic Originals. “We’re just trying to take it as it comes and get a feel for what kids are enjoying as we put out new titles.” He noted that the company is “thinking in terms of series, and that’s one thing that’s kind of interesting about our approach.” Books that do particularly well will be turned into series, and others may be standalone titles. “We’re drawing something out of the playbook of Netflix,” he added, “where the engagement is increased by kids knowing that there will be a new book coming, almost like a new episode of a TV series, and if they follow that storyline and care about those characters they’ll come back for more.”
As the Epic Originals gain traction with their audience, Donahue takes pride in the fact that the new titles represent the Epic brand’s values. “At Epic we tried very hard to create a service that is fun for kids but allows them to learn along the way, and a service that teachers and parents trust as a safe place where kids can develop a love of reading and learning.” He hopes that when kids read an Epic Original book “it will be something that reminds them and their parents and teachers of the value of the entire platform.”