Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creating Apps for Kids: Educate Yourself & Collaborate

There has been so much speculation about kids publishing and apps this past year.

Nosy Crow's first game app with Axel Scheffler

"According to a survey conducted among publishing professionals, representing 74% of all U.S. trade publishing revenues, 15% of publishers think that apps represent a significant revenue opportunity, down from 34% a year ago." Jeremy Greenfield, Digital Book World

I've heard people who work in publishing say: they cost too much, we don't have the technology skills to produce them, there are too many discoverability issues, we are book people, we do books.
I see their fear.
This is an evolutionary shift for publishing. As kids content creators we have to educate ourselves. (my rant) I don't see publishers working to educate their authors let alone illustrators. Maybe if you are lucky to be a bestseller, you might be assigned a savvy editor to help you develop your story across platforms using transmedia storytelling methods.
But that's if you are a bestseller. How many are there? Is this a viable business model? Hope for bestsellers?
This approach just doesn't work anymore.

I just read Mike Shatzkin's notes from The London Book Fair:

"I have trouble seeing a future for book publishers in the kids’ content world. Everybody seemed to agree about what the apps of the future required (interactivity, game elements, animation) and that the parents of five years from now will be much more likely to hand their kids in the back seat an iPad than a book. So I asked them, as books diminish, what will publishers have to offer here? Wouldn’t this business belong to people who know gaming and animation, not books?

Kate seized the question from the stage and answered in a way that seemed to confirm my conjecture. “We don’t hire people with book experience,” she said. When I checked in with her later, she agreed that books were a revenue-generating convenience to get her company started. She sees the day when they won’t be part of her business anymore. What excited her (and well it should) was that they’d just made their fifth app and had created all the software tools they needed to build it while making the first four. The cost of creating their apps is plummeting because they’ve built the toolkit."

Nosy Crow's award winning Cinderella app illustrated by Ed Bryan

YES! I applaud Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow fame for investing the time and energy it took to create the toolkit to decrease her P&L for delivery of some of finest apps out there like The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.
But I disagree with Mike about kids publishing belonging to "people who know gaming and animation." I wonder if Kate could have delivered such a rich experience without her 25 years as a book editor? It's not an either or choice. Publishing needs to embrace ALL OF IT and collaborate. A good story has to be the cornerstone of the experience-that 25 years as a book editor pays off. An animation has to be narrative and a game experience immersive to deliver the emotional experience a great book can.
I still believe book people will deliver the most interesting app experiences for kids. But it will happen through collaboration and investing in educating kids content creators. New kinds of editors (like Kate) are needed.
But don't wait for editors, agents or publishers.
Educate yourself. Build your platform. Check out what other kid's content creators are doing.
Think of yourself as a tiny publisher building an agile platform for your book experiences.

Experiment with your kids content online. Collaborate. Build your community.
Believe in what you do.  
Build your toolkit.
This is only the beginning.


Techno Toddler: A is for Apple , November 2011, The Guardian
The Book App is Dead. Again. FutureBook, January 2012
Publishers' Love Affair With Apps Is Over, Digital Book World, January 2012
How Publishers Like Us Pay Authors And Illustrators (for beginners), Nosy Crow Blog, April 2012 
PictureBook Lessons: The Art of Letting Readers Fill in The Blanks, A New Kind Of Book, Peter Meyers agile blog/book, March 2012