Another player joins the ranks of e-book providers with the official launch of StoryBots, an e-book and digital entertainment platform for kids 2-6, from the founders of online animation producer JibJab. The free StoryBots app, for iOS devices, comes with one e-book title called Dancing Feet; for $3.99 per month, consumers get a book a month thereafter, with additional titles priced at $1.99 each.
The stories are personalized using JibJab’s Starring You technology, which allows purchasers to scan in photos of their children (or parents, grandparents, or pets), who are then integrated into the video to dance and sing alongside the StoryBots characters. All told, JibJab’s personalized Starring You videos – best known from OfficeMax’s annual Elf Yourself promotion – have been viewed more than one billion times, according to the company. JibJab first gained famed through political viral videos, including 2004’s This Land Is Your Land featuring George W. Bush and John Kerry.
“After our children were born, we were amazed at how adept, comfortable, and engaged they were with technology,” said Gregg Spiridellis, who co-founded JibJab in 1999 with Evan Spiridellis, his brother. “It made us think: If Sesame Street were created today, what would it be?”
The Storybots app, then called JibJab Jr., had a soft launch in August 2011, and currently ranks among the 10 top-grossing book apps on the iPad. There are 18 StoryBots Starring You StoryBooks to date, with topics ranging from pizza to the circus to seasonal themes. An additional title will be published each month. “It’s like an old-school book-of-the-month plan,” Spiridellis says. The brothers have some experience in the children’s book world, having written two books, Are You Grumpy, Santa? (2003) and The Longest Christmas List Ever (2007), for Disney-Hyperion.
The StoryBots e-books include sound and some animation, but no interactive functions. “It’s about winding down and telling stories, not about hitting the screen and interacting,” Spiridellis explains. “They’re very much meant as traditional book substitutes. They’re delicately animated to not get in the way of the parent reading the story. They’re meant to be the focus of that magical parent-child together time.”
While e-books are central to the initiative, other content, all free, has been added to the StoryBots site, including four personalized music videos (with one added each month), 26 musical video shorts about the letters of the alphabet, a Beep & Boop iPhone game that earns children rewards for good behavior, and 100 downloadable activity sheets. “We wanted to make sure we had enough free content to give consumers a sense of what the StoryBots is all about,” says Spiridellis.
The StoryBots are colorful characters that live beneath the screen. “We created this character-based franchise that could extend across all platforms,” Spiridellis says, noting that once more digital content is added and awareness grows over time, there may be potential to transition into books, toys, or other traditional media. “We’re a digital media company, but we’re also parents, and we see the value of entertaining children with the screens turned off.”