Want to create a storybook? Do your homework first!

Exactly one year ago I wrote a posting called Now you have an app. So, what’s next? talking about some things many developers tend to forget while creating their applications.

Having seen so many Kwik made storybooks (the words below are valid for non-storybooks as well) since then, I think it is time to provide some more insights to people willing to create their own stories.

Great story, features, ideas, excitement… Stop! You can’t start yet!

It is very common, Jane (our fictional user) has this nice story in her head (it could be an original one or a personal visit to one of the old classics) and a few sketches, that she thinks are great for a storybook app. She searches and discovers many tools with all sorts of features (Kwik included). She learns a few tricks, get so excited and start to design her project. After a couple of frustrations, she gets on her feet again and, few months later she publishes her book. She prices it at $2.99, after all it is a great story with nice illustrations. She even does some marketing. Weeks pass, sales do not come, she sets the app price now to $0.99. Sales are still not coming. Thinking she spent time and money in something she may not have enough talent, she gives up and returns to her previous daily life. Jane never creates another storybook.

Sounds familiar? These may be some of the main reasons:

Not knowing the market. Research first.

For some reason this important, and first thing that should be done, is neglected by most people. For example, Jane decided to create her version of the classic “Little Red Hood”. A quick search in AppShopper reveals 1,000 entries for this! Does the universe needs another “Little Red Hood” app? If so, how to differentiate from the other ones (after all, prices vary from free to $4.99)?

Keeping researching, Jane would be surprised to learn that, for the Amazon devices, only 20 apps show up in the search results! Maybe the original focus on the iOS platform should be reviewed, right?

Again, just a simple example of  “15 minutes, can save…” research (fill the blanks with, money, time, frustration, etc), that may help with final decisions.

Differentiation.

Now that Jane knows a little bit about her competition, she needs to understand why some apps are selling (even priced higher) and others are not. Although the list of differentiators may be huge, lets focus on 3 important ones:

  • Technology: for some (publishers and customers) being in the edge of technology is what drive their work. Take the example of Nosy Crow. They started as a small independent publisher in the United Kingdom. Being small, and possibly trying to avoid large fees, they decided to create storybooks from old time classics. Their differentiation against so many Cinderella’s, Three Little Pig’s, etc? Amazing interactions never seen before in storybooks (use of accelerometer, mic, gorgeous animations, etc). Targeting people who love technology (usually people with more money), they put prices of $7.99 for each app they made. You download a “common, free” Cinderella app and compare with Nosy Crow’s “trial” version. You will, promptly see the difference and spend your money! Rapidly they became famous, with several traditional publishers looking them now to bring original stories to the new media.

  • Focus: I am still surprised when people ask me “what do you think about my app?” and I return with a simple question: “who is your main target audience?”. Usually the answer is “Everybody” or “Children from 5 to 12″. Clearly there is an issue here. Different age ranges require different interaction, illustration style, activities, etc. With the benefits of the technology, people tend to use “as many features as possible”. Just check our forums for feature requests and you will see several examples that make me to think “in which scenario a reader will use this?”. Alright, back to the topic. Take the example of The Monster at the End of This Book, from Sesame Street. Since its launch, it costs $4.99 and it stills a top seller. Checking the book, for several times, I thought to myself “what hell? This is the simplest thing in the world!”. No fancy games, hard interactions, nothing! Plain story with few animations and straight audio [I am analyzing the original version. Updated ones have introduced more stuff]. The reason it showcases so well (besides well known characters)? It is targeted to small children, willing to listen a nice bed story. Simple as that!

  • Quality: None of the examples above would be successful without quality. Although quality may be subjective to many, lets be fair and bold here: quality means, a great story with impeccable illustrations, perfect audio and interactions (animations included) that enhance the experience while reading the story. Sadly, several authors miss one or more from the above list. Lets see some examples:

fox

Little Fox Music Box, from Fox & Sheep (previously Shape Minds and Moving Images), is a perfect example of image, audio, experience and target audience. The audios exist to match the experience. By the way, let me pause here: why so many authors like to add “click-able” objects that do nothing then just play a “boing” sound?

Take Amelia and Terror of the Night, from OhNoo Studio, as another example of great quality. The illustrations are gorgeous and the animations are used to enhance the story. Another pause: why so many authors like to add “click-able” objects that do nothing then just “rotate” on the screen? Or animate a static bee over a path? Bees (and every animal that flies) wings flaps while they fly! A simple sprite sheet (or movie clip) with 2-3 images would improve a lot the animation. Not hard to do but, many are missing the opportunity to increase quality.

Can you do it alone?

Before you say “all nice apps above were made by teams, with lots of money, etc. I am just Jane!”, check Sylvester’s Band, from just 2 guys at Uncle Handsalt.


Hopefully Jane gets the point here. Research, differentiation, and quality (then marketing efforts) are crucial for success. With the maturity of the platforms, few will thrive “by lucky” or “because they arrived first”. I strongly believe that is a matter of time for the ending of free to $0.99 storybooks. People are starting to understand that quality driven products must cost more and they will pay for that. Again, how many Cinderella stories you have downloaded are still in your device?

As always, I am looking forward to your feedback!

8 comments

  • Alex,

    I just recently started getting involved with your product and I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate your work with Kwik. Keep it up. You have a marvelous product for us non-C+ types. More of your narrated tutorials please! Best wished for your continued success!

    Bill

  • Alex,

    Great post! Being another developer with only a sound guy to help (huge help!) I really appreciate what Kwik makes it possible for me to do, and as a long time children’s book author and illustrator, as well as mother, grandmother, former teacher I appreciate the importance of quality. For children, nothing but the best is good enough! Thank you,
    Anna

  • Pingback: It’s daunting, but you can create your storybook app too! – Guest Post by Alex Souza | The Digital Media Diet
  • Great list of apps.
    As a small studio, I totally agree that there is no need for a big team to create great book app that parents and kids would love to come back to over and over,

    We have developed award winning books that received rave reviews from parents and bloggers alike -

    Wince – Don’t Feed The WorryBug – by Andi Green (wince.imaginemachine.com)
    and The Rooster who lost his voice (www.imaginemachine.com)

    but I have to say that it’s not just like you said –
    “It is targeted to small children, willing to listen a nice bed story. Simple as that!” – it’s never as simple as that.
    This book is a huge brand and got pushed by Apple and channels outside of the App Store.

    There are amazing books out there that followed every step of your points and still get lost in the sea of
    apps that Apple pushes – or as you say – “how many Cinderella stories you have downloaded are still in your device?”

    Apple being the gate keeper, and publisher puts a real barrier for independent studios to be discovered – Nosy crow is not a “small studio” – they are publishers of real books and come from scholastics and other big publishing houses – their apps are great and have a lot of novelty but nothing is as simple as it seems.

    There is a huge problem of discoverability and no lack of good content.

    • Eyal,

      First of all, beautiful work! Thanks for sharing!

      When I said “It is targeted to small children, willing to listen a nice bed story. Simple as that!”, I was trying to say “it is about the story only for small children”. The reason for this phrase is that some people/studios add all sorts of games, activities, puzzles, whatever, into apps that would require only a great story. I apologize if it sounded wrongly.

      You are absolutely right: hundreds of great books are not being discovered in the stores. Specifically for marketing efforts I wrote the “So, what’s next?” post (in the beginning of this text I mentioned that). Lets just “disagree a bit” when you mention the “huge problem is discoverability, not lack of good content”. Unfortunately there are so many bad content hurting good apps to be found. Take the “Cinderella” example again and see how many bad ones will show up, probably sending good ones to the end of the list…

  • What a great post!

    Thanks, Alex.

    Love the interactivity and animations used byt “Little Fox Music Box” and “Amelia and Terror of the Night” storybooks. Do you know what technology they used to create those? It wasn’t Corona, was it?

    We create interactive storybooks and I would love if our storybooks had the same interactivity and animations….:)

    • Pavel, thanks for the words. In fact all the storybooks mentioned in the posting could be done with Kwik (although some external code would be necessary in some cases). In fact, I saw a “work in progress” app made with Kwik very similar to “Little Fox”. I am really excited to see it in our Showcase when it is done. It is getting pretty cool.

      I believe both apps you mentioned were created using Cocos2d.

  • Great post Alex. Very helpful. I agree with you about the huge volume of apps that are just not good apps. Whether it’s a weak story, unnecessary interactions, lack of interactions that would advance the story, or just poorly executed code that doesn’t run on the intended devices correctly, there are thousands of poorly rated apps. Check the reviews for your competition. That will give you a real good idea of what buyers are looking for and what they like and don’t like. Even the big guns are falling short. I looked at a McGraw Hill app – 15 1 star ratingss and one 5 star (which sounded like a company plant). Their app didn’t run correctly on Android devices!

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