Saturday, April 10, 2010

The iPad Meets the Children's Book

The iPad Meets the Children's Book

Apps for kids' stories start to proliferate for Apple's newest product

By Karen Springen -- reprinted with permission of Publishers Weekly

Apr8AppsMissSpiderInteriorJUMPAn interior image from Calloway's 'Miss Spider' app.On launch day last Saturday, Apple sold more than 300,000 iPads—and users downloaded more than one million apps and more than 250,000 ebooks from the iBookstore. Parents immediately started snapping up picture book apps from Apple's online store. In fact, children's stories held six of the top 10 paid iPad book-app sales spots as of press time. Typical prices for children's book apps range anywhere from $2.99 for The Cat in the Hat to $9.99 for Miss Spider's Tea Party.

So far the big winners seem to be household names. The current bestselling kid-lit iPad apps are The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss's ABC, Toy Story 2 Read-Along, How to Train Your Dragon, Miss Spider's Tea Party, and The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. The top 10 freebie book apps also included kid titles: Toy Story Read-Along, Twilight, the Graphic Novel, Lite, Volume 1, and ABC Dinosaurs-iPad Edition. And in the iBookstore, as opposed to the app store, the top five paid children and teens' books were Eclipse, The Lightning Thief, Twilight, Breaking Dawn, and The Berenstain Bears Go to Sunday School.

Early Adopters and Careful Observers

Publishers and app makers are taking widely different approaches to the burgeoning app market, with some instantly jumping on the iPad bandwagon and others waiting to see how many moms and dads let their kids read stories on a $499 device. Some developers are tweaking existing apps, say for the iPhone or iPod Touch, while others are starting from scratch.
Apr8AppsDisneyA screenshot from one of Disney's 'Toy Story' apps.On iPad launch day, Disney introduced its $8.99 Toy Story 2 app, and within the next eight weeks plans to add The Princess and the Frog, Beauty and the Beast,Winnie-the-Pooh, and, in June, a 3D app for Toy Story 3. Apps will boost print book sales rather than cannibalize them, said Jeanne Mosure, senior v-p and group publisher of Disney Publishing Worldwide. "It just makes children more excited about the prospect of reading more and buying more books." By the end of this year, Disney plans to sell apps for about two dozen of its 600 stories available through its Disney Digital Books initiative. Bob Iger, Disney's CEO, greenlighted Disney Publishing's iPad efforts when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad back on January 27.

Random House publishes the print versions of Dr. Seuss's titles, but app maker Oceanhouse Media licensed the iPad and iPhone rights to the entire collection from Dr. Seuss Enterprises. So far it has launched three apps (The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss's ABC, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Within the next few weeks, it will also introduce The Lorax as two separate apps (a book and a game).

Oceanhouse sells games separately because its president, Michel Kripalani, thinks that's what Theodor Geisel would have wanted. "Ted Geisel was all about teaching kids how to read. Every feature we put into this book has to support reading and teaching kids how to read." To wit, Oceanhouse's apps let kids touch an object, such as a hat, and see the word for it float forward. And as the narrator reads, the app highlights the corresponding text. As the number of iPad apps grows, Kripalani believes name recognition will become increasingly important in order to stand out (there are 170,000 apps for the more established iPhone, he noted). Oceanhouse plans to add more bells and whistles to its first three Seuss apps, which run on both the iPhone and the iPad.

Some companies, such as Scholastic, plan to offer iPad apps—but not for week one. "Kids are very comfortable with portable media and devices," said Deborah Forte, president of Scholastic Media. "Eventually this will be a platform that will have a very robust selection of content on it, and we should be there." Still, Forte—who noted that Scholastic has offered multimedia for a quarter century—is not rushing. "We're sort of trying to filter out all the noise and be really consumer-centric," she said. "I'm not quite sure that our demographic will be the biggest users in terms of the launch of the iPad." Will many parents buy iPads for their kids-or share their own? "We do think it's going to take a little bit of time to determine how relevant this platform is going to be for kids," Forte said.

The Power of Free
Apr8AppsICLThe app from the International Children's Digital Library gives readers access to more than 4,000 titles from around the world.As with the iPhone and iPod Touch, paid iPad apps aren't the only game in town-there's free material for kid-lit lovers, too. The app for the eight-year-old International Children's Digital Library, housed at the University of Maryland and largely funded by the National Science Foundation, lets iPad users read (but not download) more than 4,000 books from around the world. More than half are either written in English or have been translated into English.

Kids can also read International Children's Digital Library stories on regular computers, but the iPad is more like a real book, said Allison Druin, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. "The way children read books is sitting on their bed, sitting with their parents. Laptops are good, but an iPad is going to be even more freeing," she said. "The more that our technologies afford the feeling of what was once only able to be given to us through paper, the more we don't notice what the technology is, and we just care about the content."

The University of Maryland creators took their existing Web site and adapted it for the iPad. When kids rotate their device vertically to "portrait" mode, they see one page of a book. When they turn it horizontally to "landscape" mode, they see two pages. "We encourage kids to read how they're comfortable," said Ben Bederson, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland. "iPad is really the first time the International Children's Digital Library can be used with children in their parents' laps." As a result of the iPad's portability and convenience, he said, he projects that kids will spend more time with stories.

The University of Maryland is also enhancing its Story Kit app for the iPad, which lets kids create and share their own stories. Bederson's only critique: the frame around the edge of the screen (why not get rid of it and use the space for bigger children's picture book art?) and its pound-and-a-half weight (vs. the Kindle at 10 ounces).

Turning iPhone Apps Into iPad Apps (and Vice Versa)

Apr8AppsScholasticButtonsScholastic currently offers six apps.Many apps sold on the iPad app store are the same as the apps sold for the iPhone and iPod Touch. With the iPad, though, young readers no longer need to pan in and out to see a whole page. "Everything is basically the same, only the viewing is bigger," said Todd Parr, author of more than 20 titles available as apps for Apple devices, most recently The EARTH Book. "[But] the technology is there to experiment in so many different ways to deliver not just a book," he said.

The iPad gives readers more freedom. "You want people to be able to read it and interact with it on whatever their device of choice is," said Anthony Goff, publisher and director of Hachette Audio and Digital Media, which used ScrollMotion to create Parr's apps. "[But] the bigger and closer to book form and size the digital book is, the nicer it's going to look."

Some publishers have adapted or will adapt their iPhone apps for the iPad. Scholastic plans to enhance for the iPad its six existing iPhone and iPod Touch apps, which include I Spy Spooky Mansion, The 39 Clues Madrigal Maze, and Clifford's BE BIG with Words. "We have always prided ourselves on developing compelling media based on our books for every platform," said Scholastic's Forte. "This is just another platform to be present on."

TOON Books offers iPhone and iPad apps for Art Spiegelman's Jack and the Box and Jeff Smith'sLittle Mouse Gets Ready, designed by Apr8AppsToonBooksTOON Books plans to have its entire list available as iPad and iPhone apps by year's end.iStoryTime, and plans to release the 10 more based on the rest of its list by the end of the year. "We have a duty to make sure our books are offered to kids in every format possible," said Fran├žoise Mouly, editorial director for TOON Books and art director for The New Yorker. Last year the now two-year-old company released its books online, so the iPad is a natural next step, she said. She doesn't want to overdo it, though, with too many glitzy options. "There's a slippery slope, where people start having sound effects and animation," she said. "Then it's a passive experience for the child."

Callaway Arts & Entertainment decided to begin with the book-size device. "The iPad is the full, rich banquet," said Nicholas Callaway, chairman of Callaway Arts & Entertainment, which nine months ago started working with Apple on an app for David Kirk's $9.99 Miss Spider's Tea Party. "It's like the difference between a small TV and IMAX. We decided to launch with the iPad to show [Miss Spider] in its full glory." (In a couple of weeks, Callaway will start selling a separate iPhone app for $6.99.)

The Miss Spider app lets kids do everything from play matching games to color pages filled with black-and-white images. Kids simply touch brushes on the screen. "You can paint so much better on an 8x10 screen than you can on the iPhone-size screen," said Callaway. Soon Callaway plans to let kids save their paintings in iPhoto and send them to their grandmothers—or to Kirk.

Callaway is also working on an app for The English Roses, its tween girls' series with Madonna. And in the fourth quarter of 2010, Callaway is debuting Dreamers, a new series by David Kirk, as an iPad app rather than as a print book. As it is doing with Miss Spider, Callaway plans to release about oneDreamers title per month. At some point, the apps—like movie DVDs—will include "bonus features" that would go "way beyond the back-jacket flaps," according to Callaway. "Being able to do video footage of our authors and creators is the kind of thing we are envisioning for our apps."

Unlike e-readers, which typically reproduce a traditional book experience on an electronic screen, these apps can offer animation, music, and many interactive features. "It's a whole different content creation mechanism," said Callaway.

Big players like ScrollMotion are creating new apps, but as was true with the iPhone, smaller players can—and will—jump in, too. Though it's not always easy. For example, because the iPad lacks a built-in camera, some apps require separate computer use to work. The creators of the A Story Before Bed storytelling service need to get grandparents to download the app—and then record video of themselves reading books for their grandkids on a regular computer. Only then can the grandkids use the app to see Grandma reading stories via their iPad.

In the end, the large number of designers bringing more stories to more people may be good news for the publishing industry. After all, as Apple has shown, Americans seem to have an insatiate app-etite.


  1. Definitely an exciting time in the world of publishing! Thrilled to see children and parents alike excited about all the possiblities the iPhone and iPad apps have to offer in the world of children's books . . . read yourself, read along, music, interactive games and activities. The future is here!

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