There is probably no better example of the changes looming over publishing than the rise of the app and the transformation of children’s publishing from static picture and prose print works into dynamic, interactive multimedia content. The final day of Digital Book World brought together four publishers at the forefront of combining technology and content to create a new form of “book” that combines video, animation, audio and text in a software package that can be continually updated with new features even as it generates data about how it’s being used.
Nick Callaway, founder of Callaway Digital Arts, Marc Jaffe of Cross Platform Publishing Advisors, Michel Kripalani of Oceanhouse Media, and Rick Richter of Ruckus Media Group provided insights into the process of, in the words of Richter, developing a new form--"books you can play with and games you can read.” Indeed both this new form of storytelling and the companies producing it are all quite new, established in the last two years in most cases. And while there are similiarities in how they approach creating multimedia content, there are some differences.
Callaway, who has transitioned his company from a highly regarded visual book publisher to a venture capital-funded multimedia studio, described CDA as a “mobile and tablet publisher” rather than a “work for hire developer,” noting partnerships to produce apps for Martha Stewart and Sesame Street. Jaffe, who has a long history in both book publishing and videogame development, is a consultant working with Trilogy Studios, a game developer looking to develop properties with “high profile brands and characters,” which plans to release a series of new titles this year. Oceanhouse’s Kripalani has a portfolio of apps based on Dr. Seuss, the Berenstain Bears and other properties and described his firm as “a full publishing house that licenses content from book publishers and adapts it for mobile devices.” Richter, former head of children's publishing at S&S, said Ruckus Media was launched to be a "disruptive force in publishing," and said his company focuses on "licensed and original works for the iPad and other devices."
All the publishers (producers?) described business models that featured a combination of partnerships, revenue sharing and licensing. They are also focused on a category—kids' multimedia entertainment—so new and fast-changing that standards for quality barely exist and an underlying technology that seems to change on a weekly basis. Indeed, moderator Charlie Schroder was quick to ask the panel “how do you stay perpetually innovative?” in a field that seems to change by the minute.
Callaway said CDA is a “technology company and a content company,” pointing to a $6 million investment in CDA from a Apple-focused venture capital firm that is funding the construction of app development studios in New York and in San Francisco, close to the West Coast locus of Apple tech development. “Technology defines your content,” said Callaway. “The technology is changing by the week, so we will have studios on both coasts because you need to be close to technological change."
Jaffe said Trilogy has received a $10 million investment in its platform and noted that “the need to bring technology to bear on content can be a stretch to competency of traditional book publishers.” Kripalani also described Oceanhouse Media as a company that brings technology and content together around authors like Ted Geisel and his Dr. Seuss books. “Every day our developers get together to ask ourselves, ‘what would Ted do?,’ ” if presented with having to tell his stories on devices like the iPad.
All the publishers said pricing was a moving target and experiments of all kinds were ongoing. Callaway said he had just released a Sesame Street app for 99 cents that was selling very well, although his Miss Spider app was released last year at $9.99 and was also a top-selling download. "Our notions about pricing changes every day," said Callaway, "we experiment." Subscription and freemium strategies were cited as well as the opportunities for continued sales through in-app purchases. All the publishers were excited by the ability to continually update the apps—after all, it's software—and noted how periodic updates of purchased apps will keep customer interest and loyality. Indeed the ability of apps to continually generate data about usage and other purchases was hailed a paradigm shift that will aid both the quality of apps produced as well as marketing and customer service. “You know who is using your app, where they’re reading in the app and what country they’re in; it’s all there,” said Kripalani. “We can engage a customer and create a community around them and sell them something else,” said Jaffe.
And all the publishers were quick to emphasize storytelling and quality in a digital marketplace that has yet to build a serious curatorial filter that can highlight quality work from all the rest of the stuff, “like we have in the traditional book market,” said Richter. Indeed, Richter said, “there are 30,000 kids’ apps in the App Store, and about 27,000 of them are horrible. We hope to take that curator's role and let parents know what’s makes a great app and an excellent experience for their kids. We want people to take this space seriously and respect kids.”