Since its launch in September 2010 by former Simon & Schuster executive Rick Richter, Ruckus Media Group had released 20 apps, but the company plans a big increase in 2012, with 100 new titles scheduled. To increase its output, Ruckus is using a mix of original stories and licensed properties. In the past few months, it has signed licenses with a diverse roster of companies, including Hasbro’s brands and characters, Sea World, the math series Cyberchase, the Wiggles singing group, and preschool TV series Dino Dan. “We have been picking up a wide variety of licenses that might strike some people as a little bit odd,” acknowledged Richter. “But if you want to attract kids in this world, you need the licensing. We want to be where the kids want to be.”
Ruckus was an attractive partner for several reasons, said Sandra Sheppard, executive producer of Cyberchase and director of children’s and educational media at WNET/Thirteen. “Their mission and ours were similar, to create a fusion of educational content with engaging characters and story lines, and their development process is very collegial and collaborative.” Noting that this was the first science/math brand Ruckus has worked with, Sheppard added, “They have been very thoughtful about how they achieve the specific educational goals.”
Any publisher or developer faces two big challenges in launching new apps, according to Richter: discoverability and scalability. Licenses help in both cases. “There’s a great appetite for it if people can find you,” he said. Ruckus’s most successful app to date has been My Little Pony: Twilight Sparkle, Teacher for a Day, which was licensed from Hasbro and immediately became the #1 paid app in the book category and stayed strong. Another Hasbro property, Chuck and Friends: Friends for the Long Haul, has been its second top-seller, followed by the Velveteen Rabbit (narrated by Meryl Streep), Spot the Dot (from author-illustrator David A. Carter), and A Present for Milo (by author-illustrator Mike Austin).
When it buys rights from licensors, Ruckus buys very specific rights. “Our interactive storybooks contain elements of animation and gaming. They allow you to interact with the story, and they propel the story,” Richter said. “But some of our licensors have big gaming relationships or e-book relationships, which we completely respect. It’s not a rights grab.”
The world of interactive storybooks is ever-evolving. “It’s like a Disney ride,” Richter said. “You’re in the dark, you don’t know where you’ve been or where you’re going, and every so often something pops up and surprises you.” He added, “It changes weekly. You have to be ready to pivot really quickly. It can be exhilarating or daunting.”
Last September, Ruckus forged a partnership with Scholastic for a transmedia imprint that will bring original intellectual property—including original Ruckus IP, newly acquired projects, and out-of-print backlist—to print, e-book, and enhanced e-book formats. First book titles are due this year, but nothing has been announced yet. “This is an exciting time in publishing, filled with opportunities to present content in new and innovative ways,” noted Lori Benton, v-p and group publisher, Scholastic Trade Publishing. “When Ruckus approached us about a partnership, it presented an opportunity that fit neatly into our continued exploration of new forms of storytelling.”
Ruckus expects to make more news shortly, including a big platform announcement that will clarify the company’s future strategy, Richter said. “We’re moving out of the one-app-at-a-time approach.”