Rick Richter, former president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, is returning as the head of a new media company, Ruckus Media Group, a global family entertainment company that will specialize in creating high-definition animation apps for children aimed at the mobile computing market. Ruckus Media has more than 80 original and licensed animated titles under contract with plans to price titles at $3.99, and the company will begin releasing an app each week starting September 28.
Ruckus has licensed titles from the Rabbit Ears Library, a list of classic animation and audiobook titles read by Hollywood stars, and will begin releasing remastered editions of the list digitally optimized for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android Mobile devices. But Richter said the firm is also in the process of signing new authors and illustrators—among them, Jon Scieszka, Andrew Clements, Patricia MacLachlan, David Carter, and Alan Katz—to create a list of original Ruckus Media animated apps. Among the titles being released are The Velveteen Rabbit, told by Meryl Streep, illustrated by Dave Jorgenson, with music by George Winston; and John Henry, told by Denzel Washington, illustrated by Barry Jackson, with music by B.B. King. “Our goal is to extend a child’s imagination through interactivity and to lead more and more kids to play and to read, regardless of the medium,” Richter said.
Although he declined to give specific figures, Richter said Ruckus Media contracts offered authors “a very good deal,” on digital rights and he claimed “we’ve won over the major agencies.” Indeed Richter said that with worldwide digital rights and international partners in 90 countries, he intends for Ruckus Media to be the “largest publisher of kids' apps in the world.” Richter said the company’s financing is a combination of “our own investment and seed investment. There’s a lot of money flowing into the mobile publishing space.”
The Rabbit Ears Library is a classic list of animations and audiobook titles that has been dormant for about a decade. Titles are read by such stars as Robin Williams, Denzel Washington, Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, and Glenn Close, in addition to featuring music by the likes of Bobby McFerrin, Elvis Costello and B.B. King. Ruckus Media apps targets children age 3 to 10, and the company intends to eventually release titles aimed at the middle grade and YA market as well.
Not only are Ruckus Media titles priced aggressively at $3.99 per title, but the apps are designed to be interactive and will offer periodic upgrades of additional digital content at no extra cost, which Richter said is “a way to capture, keep and develop a relationship to our customers.” Marketing and promotion will be focused online with an emphasis on social media, data mining web ads and more. Richter said there would be a focus on targeting “Mommy Bloggers”—a fast-growing and influential online population of mothers who use their blogs to critique family-oriented products and entertainment. “You need their support to sell products,” said Richter.
Joining with Richter to launch the new firm is Ruckus co-founder and COO Jim Young, who brings executive-level expertise from previous senior level positions as NBC, Viacom and WebMD as well as S&S. The company has 14 full and part-time staffers, and several consultants--among them former S&S colleagues Emma Dryden and Rubin Pfeffer—and the Ruckus board of directors includes such publishing veterans as Richter’s old boss, Jack Romanos, former CEO of Simon & Schuster, and Dan Weiss, publisher at large, St. Martin’s Publishing.
Now free of the non-compete clause with his old employer, Romanos has worked in a strategic and planning capacity with Richter, a relationship both men hope will continue. Similar to some other former book publishers, Romanos said he “wanted to do something in the digital space.” What he particularly likes about Ruckus is its focus on developing new content rather than merely “scavenging for rights. This is more substantial, and I think it is a very positive sign that so many respected authors are willing to join [him].” Romanos said he sees the apps as a great way for parents to read to their children and he believes the apps will be an alternative to books, not a replacement.
“The iPad changes everything,” Richter said in an interview at the PW offices about the launch of Ruckus Media. “It’s a lot easier to start a digital company than to try and retrofit a book publishing house for digital publishing,” he said, noting that book publishers have a “huge infrastructure around books,” and often are not always sure what rights they own or don’t own.
“We can deliver a finished product in 12 weeks rather than two years,” Richter said. “We can really react to trends in the market.” In the brave new world of digital direct selling, Richter said there’s “no more wholesalers and no more bookstore buyers. We’re developing new revenue streams that we can’t announce just yet.” And while he joked that “you will never hear me say the words 'inventory,' 'returns,' or 'royalty writeoffs' ever again,” he acknowledged that “there eventually could be a Ruckus Book imprint,” in partnership with a publishing house.
“The goal of Ruckus,” Richter said, “is to combine the most creative minds in children’s media with tremendously exciting new mobile devices. We’ll be satisfied when a mom or dad can hand their phone or tablet to their child knowing that the experience the child is about to have will entertain them, challenge them, perhaps make them giggle, and be utterly satisfying.”