Moira Butterfield recently wrote a blog post about the “battle” between print and on-screen reading (something to which we are not strangers). She says, “I believe there could be more innovative computer/picture book mixes out there to discover, and I want publishers to call on us authors for ideas, not just on computer whizzes. I think we should get into the mix and offer our creativity.”
I haven’t spoken to Moira before writing this blog post, but, on the basis of this blog she doesn’t seem hugely excited about the apps she’s seen (perhaps she doesn’t know ours!): “We already have apps in which picture books are read out loud and pictures change when children touch the screen.” She seems to be suggesting something beyond/other than apps when she refers to “online”. She says, “I hope publishers will ask authors to help them with creative ideas for stretching their books to make wonderful new material online.”
So let’s deal with that first. A key reason that apps (and ebooks, but that’s a different subject) are attractive to publishers is that people are willing to pay for them. They are not always willing to pay a huge amount, and it’s certainly the case in our experience that you need to deliver more content more cheaply than you would in print. However, there’s evidence that people’s willingness to pay is increasing: Carly Schuler’s report for the Joan Gantz Cooney centre on children’s educational apps suggested that the average price of children’s educational apps had risen by a dollar between 2009 and 2011… and, as that represented a move from $1.13 to $2.14, that’s an 88% price increase.
By contrast, it’s proved hard for publishers to get readers to pay for online content (outside business, educational, scientific, technical and medical publishing – I am talking about “trade publishing”, and specifically children’s publishing, throughout this blog post). It will be interesting to see if initiatives, interestingly not taken by publishers themselves, like Magic Town which are based on reading and books, take off in the way that other kinds of virtual worlds like Moshi Monsters have taken off.
But maybe I am misunderstanding Moira. Maybe she is saying that she wants publishers to reach out to authors to create apps.
We’d love to find authors who are interested in working on apps.
But writing a highly interactive, multimedia children’s app that is a satisfying reading experience is not the same as writing a picture book. Here are some ways in which, in our experience, writing a children’s story app is different:
Creating an app is a highly collaborative process. More, perhaps, like writing a film-script than writing a book. Of course, picture book authors are used to being edited, but writing something truly interactive which accommodates other media does require a different level of flexibility and team-playing. Our apps are highly interactive and include illustration, animation, voice audio and music: the text is, just by virtue of the arthmetic a smaller part of that mix than it is in a picture book… which is not to say that it’s not a hugely important part of the mix.
Creating an app is a technical process. Moira writes about “teccies” and “computer whizzes”, and I think that authors who are interested in working into new media need to get to know “teccies” and “computer whizzes” and understand their kind of creativity, their sensitivities and what they regard as excellent in their fields. That’s not to say that authors need to come to publishers with a finished, coded app (we wouldn’t want that, for example: we have our own technical team, and we want to use code we’ve created), I do think that having some understanding of what does into animation and coding is helpful.
Creating an app is a new process. Authors who write picture books know their genre inside-out, and can draw on a huge experience of reading picture books themselves and, usually, of reading picture books to children. In August 2009 Winged Chariot launched Europe’s first picture book app (you can read about it here and elsewhere), so we’re looking at a genre that is just three years old. We began work on apps that we expected would be used on a screen bigger than the one we had available several months before the launch of the iPad, which turned out to be the name of the device we’d been expecting, in May 2010. So apps are new, and they’re developing fast. I think that authors who are interested in writing in this space need to keep up with developments, immerse themselves in this world and get to know the best of the apps that are out there, and, even better, spend time with children who are reading those apps to see how they use the screen and what they expect from it.
Apps are voracious: in our experience, they need more content than a picture book aimed at the same age-group. Writing a picture-book length text isn’t going to provide enough text for an app. Which is not to say that you can have even as much text on a screen at any one time as you can have on a printed page.
Apps are non-linear, or, at least, not completely linear: in our experience, understanding the balance of narrative story-telling and other non-linear elements is important.
The bottom line is that we get a lot of submissions of picture book texts that are sent into us as something that “would make a good app”. Often this is on the basis of just a couple of suggestions of interactivity: “when you touch the sky, the stars twinkle”, for example.
But, in our view, that’s just not enough.
In fact, we’ve written the texts for all of the apps we’ve published to date.
But that’s about to change. Our next app, Rounds: Franklin Frog, from which you can see an illustration at the top of this post, is written by an “outside author”: a husband-and-wife author-illustrator team came up with the concept, wrote the script and did the illustration. Even then, I think that Emma, who wrote the script, would say that there was a fair amount of team-work and back-and-forth involved in hammering out the final text. And, once we’d done that, there were final tweaks to be made in the recording studio: we use children’s voices and there were a couple of things that our narrator, Connie, just couldn’t say with the level of expression and fluency that we needed… so we changed them on the hoof. We kept the sense, and stayed true to the author’s intention, but we changed a word, or word-order, or the rhythm, to create something that sounded right, rather than read right.
We’ve done it once, and you’ll be able to see the results in a couple of weeks. We are more than willing to do it again. So, come on, authors: send us your excellent, thought-through concepts, with your vision of the multimedia and interactive elements that could be added to your brilliant text. We want to keep producing best-in-class apps, and we want to hear from you if you think you can work with us to do that.
We are thrilled to announce that our third highly-interactive storybook app, Bizzy Bear on the Farm, is now available on the App Store for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.
Using the touchscreen, children aged two and up can explore the farm and help Bizzy Bear with all his chores. They can, for example, feed the pigs, put sheep into their pen, pick apples, gather eggs and drive the tractor!
This is our first app based on a Nosy Crow book series – our popular Bizzy Bear board books for children. But we’re not just squashing the books onto a phone or tablet. While the board books feature chunky tabs to push and pull, the app includes lots more simple ways for little fingers to explore the story, and the words are different too. The children’s voices reading the story, the farmyard sound effects and the specially-composed music make things even more fun.
We’re excited to bring the interactive features we’ve developed in apps (like The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella) for slightly older children to a younger audience.
The app is designed for toddlers and focuses on listening skills, following directions, and completing tasks. Bizzy responds to every touch with encouragement and help.
iLounge, the online magazine for mobile Apple devices, has declared Cinderella its iPad Kids App of the Year as part of its 2012 Buyers’ Guide, beating off stiff competition from runners-up including Dano Pirate HD from Bambino Avenue and ABC Food from Peapod Labs.
Jeremy Horwitz, iLounge’s Editor-in-Chief, said that, “Of all the kids’ applications we’ve tested over the past year for iPads, Nosy Crow’s Cinderella was most certainly the best. The story dates back centuries, but Nosy Crow’s version feels like something entirely new, bringing the classic characters to life inside funny, surprisingly interactive 3-D environments. The charming voice work alone is good enough to justify the purchase, and as you listen, you’ll discover a dozen little details that all work together to make Cinderella memorably excellent.”
You can download our press release here or view it here.
We are proud see Cinderella listed along with the classic “Harold and the Purple Crayon”, Peapod Labs’ “ABC Food” and Toca Boca’s “Toca Robot Lab” – a few of our favourites!
Here’s a quote from the story:
“If you coexist with children and iPads, you’ve undoubtedly discovered they have an insatiable “app”-itite (sorry, couldn’t resist). Here are eight recent noteworthy selections for younger users…
Cinderella – Nosy Crow Animated Picture Book ($6) raises the bar in children’s ebooks with such touches as an orchestrated sound track and a magic mirror that puts your child’s face into the story, by way of the front-facing camera. For ages 3-up.”
We were saddened to hear that Steve Jobs died yesterday. Although we didn’t know him personally, like so many others we feel a sense of loss. And we’re thinking of our friends at Apple at this time.
It’s been touching to see all the tributes this morning and to watch the video of his Stanford commencement speech.
His message that “The only way to do great work is to love what you do” resonates with us. We’re inspired by the meticulous design of Apple products; by the belief that quality counts; that aesthetics and user interface are just as important as functionality; and that technology can be used to delight and inspire. In our own small way we try to integrate this philosophy into our work.
Apple’s products make it easy for people to harness their own creative energy and share ideas. iMovie, iPhoto, the iOS SDK, iTunes, etc. all let you make personally meaningful content and enable you to participate in a creative community. We use Macs and Apple software to create every one of our books and apps. We are grateful to be part of the extended Apple family. Through it, we’ve begun and maintained wonderful relationships with parents, grandparents, children and fellow apps developers.
Thank you Steve Jobs. You’ve enriched our lives. You’ve made work fun. We will honor your memory by creating books and apps that sing, inspire and transform.
While we can’t give away all of our secrets, we thought it might be fun to share a “behind the scenes” look at how part of our Cinderella app came to life. In this video, Ed Bryan, Head of Apps-Creative and the illustrator and animator of Cinderella, explains how he created Cinderella’s moonlit garden.
It’s been very exciting here at Nosy Crow. Last week we launched our second app, Cinderella, and we’ve been thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive response. We have received great feedback from parents, teachers, bloggers and app review sites.
And now, best of all, Cinderella has been recognised in the App Store. Yesterday Cinderella appeared in the list of Staff Favourites on the homepage of the App Store in the UK and Ireland. We took a screen shot because we just couldn’t believe our eyes!
Thank you for all of your support and your thoughtful emails and posts about Nosy Crow apps. Please spread the word, and keep the comments, fan photos, videos and feedback coming our way. We love to hear what you think of Cinderella and her adventures with her fairy godmother, her mean stepsisters and her shy, table-tennis-loving Prince.
In the past, we’ve written here about some of the best books for boys and girls, and have received lots of comments about what makes a great book for a boy or girl and suggestions of titles to add to each list.
And given the wide gulf between these lists, it’s always gratifying to see a book or app enjoying real crossover appeal, and even more so when it’s particularly unexpected. We’re very proud of our Cinderella storybook app, but equally, we are under no illusions – Cinderella is clearly skewed towards girls (though evidently that was not always the case).
And yet, rather pleasingly, this doesn’t seem to have discouraged male readers. Boys who would, in usual circumstances, most likely have no interest in a fairytale like Cinderella, have taken to it with gusto. In the photo below, you can see that Thomas, aged 6, has proudly helped the King stack up over 100 invitations to the ball:
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that the app has proven to be such a hit with both sexes – it boasts great music and amazing artwork (which girls certainly don’t have a monopoly on liking), is highly interactive, and you can make the stuffy old stepmother do somersaults – a prospect that evidently holds universal appeal.
So if there are any male fans of Cinderella in your family, please – let us know! And – boys or girls – we’d love to know which parts of our Cinderella app are among your favourites.
Cinderella has everything so many of you loved about the Three Little Pigs app. A traditional story plus cool interactive elements. You can help Cinderella clean up the kitchen. Gather items the fairy godmother will turn into the magic horse-drawn carriage. Change the color of Cinderella’s dress. And even pick the music for the Prince and Cinderella’s dance. Classical, disco or Bollywood style? It’s up all to you.
And there’s a special surprise for those of you who have an iDevice with a front-facing camera, like the Pad2, iPhone4 or the fourth generation iPod touch. The camera will capture an image of your face and insert it right onto the screen of the story. You’ll actually appear right there inside the “magic mirrors” in Cinderella’s house, next to her and her stepsisters.
So what else can we say? We hope you love Cinderella, and we’d love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below, or on Twitter @nosycrowapps, or on our Facebook page. Better yet… leave a review on iTunes and help our version of Cinderella rise magically to the top of the app charts!!
We were thrilled to see that The Three Little Pigs app, published in French by our partner Gallimard is included in this week’s French edition of ELLE magazine.
Les 3 petit cochons has held the #1 spot in the Apps for Kids section on the App Store in France since late July. Now readers of French ELLE will find out that this app really does “enchant children and their parents!”
Who knew that a picture book app could get children to dance?! Well, we didn’t. But that was just one of the wonderful surprises at the shoot for our Cinderella app video trailer.
Cinderella is the second app in our series of 3D Fairy Tales, and we’re just a month away from its release. So while brothers Ed and Will Bryan are putting the finishing touches on the animations and coding, it was time to make our video.
All along, we’ve felt that our Cinderella app is enchanting and magical. And dare we say, it may even be a step up from our Three Little Pigs app! Ed’s illustrations are beautiful, the characters’ comments are insightful and funny, and we’ve incorporated new interactive features that truly involve children in the story. Kids can drag things across the kitchen to help Cinderella clean-up; they can catch mice in the garden for the Fairy Godmother to transform into the carriage’s coachman and horses; and they can even change the colour of Cinderella’s dress.
But we hadn’t expected the reaction we got from these girls – the second Cinderella and the Prince hit the dance floor at the ball, THEY were dancing too!
And we always thought reading was more of a sedentary activity…
Stay tuned for more news about the final weeks leading up to the launch of our Cinderella app.
Art in Action
is a four day event held at Waterperry House and Gardens in Oxfordshire. Every year around 25,000 visitors come to observe hundreds of artists demonstrating how they work.
This was my second year demonstrating in the illustration and calligraphy marquee. Along with four other illustrators and five calligraphers we drew and talked and painted as well as selling some prints and originals and lots of books.
I was showing how I am working on sketch layouts for my next book, Dinosaur Zoom, using an iPad, alongside examples of the layouts for Dinosaur Dig! (which were done on paper).
I showed how rather than sticking lots of layers of paper one on top of the other when working up plans for illustrations, and ending up with a very bumpy paper sandwich, I could work the layers separately and smoothly on the iPad. People were amazed at the degree of subtlety that can be achieved drawing directly on the screen with a capacitive stylus. Some children had a go at drawing a dinosaur on the iPad themselves, and loved the way the brushes app we use would replay their drawing step by step. Pure ‘Art in Action’! (You can see a video of how the process works here.
I did reassure people that I would still produce the actual artwork for DINOSAURZOOM using watercolour and pencil crayons on real paper, but the iPad is certainly great for roughs.
While this was going on some very hardworking friends were also talking to people and selling books – lots of books! Ten in the Bed and Once There Were Giants were favorites and Dinosaur Dig went so fast we started to run out on the first day with Friday and the weekend still to come! Imogen was brilliant at Nosy Crow HQ, and managed to send another load which arrived the next day. All of those went too! Here’s the last copy being sold!
It was lovely to see the range of ages who liked Dinosaur Dig. A rather hot and tired 6 month old baby in a facing out sling carrier stopped crying and laughed when he saw the cover – excitedly shouting and flapping his arms and legs! Bigger children liked reading it and asked lots of questions about making the book – some even said “Cool!” when they got to the end. Many nursery and infant teachers said how it was just the thing for reading AND number work with their children. We were really delighted with all the reactions.
I want to say a huge thank you to the organisers of Art in Action and all the volunteers for making it such a unique and wonderful event! Now it’s time to unpack everything back into the studio and start on the actual artwork for Dinosaur Zoom… so which box did I put the drawing board in?
We all know how important it is to keep children reading during these lovely (well, not right now in the UK, but you get the idea) summer months. Plus, with family trips – long car rides, airport delays and crowded train stations – it’s good to have something portable and fun to keep the little ones occupied, right?
And while we can’t think of anything better than having our The Three Little Pigs app in your beachbag, we’d love to hear from you about what other children’s reads – apps or books – you’ll be taking on your travels or curling up with at home.
Today, I did an event at the Hay Festival – for parents, authors, illustrators and teachers – with the title “Are Apps The New Picture Books?”
In short, I don’t think that they are: I think that the best apps are a different kind of engaging, personal, interactive, different-every-time reading experience from the picture book experience. I have said before that I think that it is absolutely right that we should be providing children with reading experiences wherever they are spending their time. (You can read a bit about our views in this blog post.)
At the event, I spoke about the importance of children reading for pleasure; about trends in children’s reading frequency, enjoyment and chosen reading material in the UK; about children as, in that rather tired phrase, “digital natives”; and about Nosy Crow’s experience of the process of making an app. But the one thing that I promised to include in a blog post was the list of 9 children’s “picture book” apps that I spoke about at the event. Here they are, with links, where available, to their YouTube trailers:
Today’s a big day for all of us at Nosy Crow: our The Three Little Pigs app app is the Number 1 New and Noteworthy app in the UK App Store. It’s on the homepage! This is a real recognition of the app’s quality and innovation. The Three Little Pigs is Nosy Crow’s first app, and it has already been reviewed amazingly well, as you’ll see from the list of reviews in the Media Mentions section of our Media Kit page.
The Three Little Pigs has
appeared on the home pages of 12 continental European countries already it’s great to see it here in the UK App Store. Not only is the UK a really important market for our apps, but it is also “our” store: the one we buy our apps in ourselves.
The app also tops the “What’s Hot” list in book apps on the UK store:
We’ve got some exciting apps news to share. The German version of The Three Little Pigs app hit the App Store late last week, published by our co-edition partner, Carlsen and it’s already topping the charts.
Not only is Die drei kleinen Schweinchen listed in New and Notable, as of today, the iPad and iPhone versions are featured on the App Store homepage in both Germany and Austria. And the iPad version is currently the highest grossing paid app in the Books section (image above). Hooray!
There have also been several nice reviews in the German press and blogs. Here’s one example.
London has really been partying today, and many of you will have seen the coverage of the Royal Wedding.
We are very lucky to live in the middle of London, but it wasn’t really an option to stroll out and bag a great place this morning: so many people had planned for today very carefully and secured their views by turning up before it was light or even camping out for days (I saw the first tents on Wednesday morning).
I have two girls, who were more interested in event than they were readily willing to acknowledge, both being past the pink princess stage. We watched much of the lead-up and the ceremony on TV. They liked the trees and the music (top marks to timpani man), and the dress more than passed muster even with the sartorially-critical child. Then, in the lull before the balcony appearance, my older child said she thought we ought to go out and see what was happening on the ground. We arrived at the south side of Buckingham Palace about ten minutes before the wedding party came out onto the balcony. I can’t say the view was great, but I was able to catch sight of them, and, by lifting up older child (something I don’t do often these days), she was able to see them too, even if they did look like dressed-up ants at that distance. What was amazing was to be out in the sun and part of a crowd of a million people (that’s what the BBC is estimating) all of whom seemed to be in a good mood. There were British people and non-Brits, people in wheelchairs and babies in buggies and slings, couples and families with grandparents and kids, people in sensible jeans and tee-shirts and people in wigs and wedding dresses.
We came home and made chocolate eclairs for people who were dropping by the house on their way out of London – the first time I’d made choux pastry since I was a taught domestic science at school. They are, in fact, ridiculously easy to make, and I say that as someone who can hardly cook at all.
Anyway, what this post is really about is another fairy tale altogether, so, if you’ve had your fill of princesses, it’s the turn of pigs – and, specifically, our Three Little Pigs app, which has had the most fantastic reviews online and in the app store and of which we’re very proud.
Just because we’re feeling generous, we’re giving away ten copies of our Three Little Pigs app for the iPad and ten copies for the iPhone/iPod touch.
Here’s how to enter. Answer one of these questions in the comments field below. We will pick the best answers and award promo codes so the winners can download the app.
1. Who is your favourite character in the story of The Three Little Pigs and why?
2. What’s your favourite memory of reading The Three Little Pigs either as a child, or to your own children (or grandchildren, nephews, nieces, neighbours)
3. Why do you you think your children (or grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbours…) will like this app?
Please be sure to tell us whether you’d like an iPad or iPhone version of the app in your response.
The contest is running now, and we’ll close it to entries at runs now, 6.00pm UK time, 1.00pm EST on Saturday 30th April.
We’re really pleased to be featured in the New and Noteworthy category in 12 Continental European iPad App Stores at the moment. That, and the great review coverage we’ve had, has made us feel all spring-like and expansive, so we’ve decided to price-promote our Three Little Pigs app in app stores throughout the world for one week. Here’s the link.
Who knows, really, what price a really good iPad app should be? This is an evolving market. While there aren’t additional costs-per-unit as there are for books, we know how much work has gone into this app, how much time a child can spend with it and how much it rewards exploration.
As Children’s Technology Review, who awarded The Three Little Pigs an Editor’s Choice Award, said, when confirming, as many reviewers have, that we’ve priced the app appropriately:
“So is it worth $8 — easily the cost of a print edition? We think so, if you’re in search of a premium children’s ebook.”
We stand by our original pricing decisions (and the app will go back to the original prices in a week), but it will be interesting, too, to see how price-sensitive apps are – in particular, whether 5 euros represents any kind of barrier in eurozone countries (where you’d find many of the App Stores in which we’re New and Noteworthy).
The iPhone and iPod touch version are still at the same – cheaper – price. You can find them here.
Oh, and if you know the app already, and rate it and would like to vote for it as one of the Best Apps for Children (it’s called The Three Little Pigs ebook, and has, at the time of writing, a looooong way to go, I’m afraid!) do please click here
Here’s a quote from the review: “…(The) app’s animations, original music and interactive elements bring a new type of spark to this age-old story, making it one of our favorite ebooks. ….So is it worth $8 — easily the cost of a print edition? We think so, if you’re in search of a premium children’s ebook.”
The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity on the apps front for us. After nearly 8 months of planning, developing and testing, we launched the iPad version of The Three Little Pigs on Feb 17 and the iPhone/iPod touch version on March 4.
As new app publishers, we thought those launches were the key milestones… and, of course, they were important. But in some ways the real fun began when we started to hear from reviewers and from customers – parents, teachers, fellow app developers, and children – from around the world. To date, we’ve heard from over 400 people. This direct feedback has been enormously important to us. We’ve been able to find out, in a very (cheering and) direct way that people are enjoying our app and their kids are too. And we’ve also been able to find out how they use it, when they use it, how old their children or students are, and what they’d like to see us offer in our next apps. We’ve always felt that our internal app development process was collaborative – but now we are collaborating with customers too!
We were always aiming high with The Three Little Pigs app: we wanted to create something that was a really new kind of reading experience, that looked and sounded as good as it possibly could, and that was truly interactive. Nevertheless, the success of the app has exceeded our expectations.
Some highlights for us have been:
Featured in iTunes’ New & Noteworthy category in 12 App Stores: Belgium (#4), Denmark (#4), Finland (#4), Greece (#4), Italia (#4), Luxembourg (#4), Nederland (#4, )Norway (#4), Portugal (#4), Spain (#4), Sweden (#4), Switzerland (#4)
Featured in iTunes’ What’s Hot > Books in South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, UK, Russia, Turkey, New Zealand, Ireland, Austria, Norway, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong
Glowing reviews in many parenting and children’s technology publications – both online and in print, including being listed in “Best Children’s Books for iPad” in the Gadgetwise column in The New York Times and mentioned on television as great app for kids on The CBS Early Show.
Lots of interest from other non-English language publishers which has led to apps co-edition partnerships for versions in French and German. This is a new sort of business model, and it’s exciting to be at the cutting edge.
But this is no time to pat ourselves on the back. There’s work to be done: we have lots more apps to plan, develop and test. We’re in the middle of creating our next release in our fairy tale series, 3D fairy tale: Cinderella. Here’s a sneak peek of two beautifully illustrated scenes (click each image below to see it larger) by Ed Bryan. These are works in progress – you’ll need to wait until June to see the real thing!
What great timing! Kate’s on a business trip in the US this week and coincidentally Nosy Crow and our Three Little Pigs app was mentioned in a segment about moms and smartphones on the CBS Early Show this morning.
The story talked about how moms are increasingly using smartphones to manage their family’s activities. The downside, smartphone addiction. The upside, greater productivity, organization and cool apps for kids.
Yes, we’ve been talking about apps on our blog a lot this week, but there’s simply been a lot to say. Here’s something for those of you who don’t yet have a copy of The Three Little Pigs app.
The site Cool Mom Tech is running a contest with an entry deadline of midnight tonight, giving away copies of The Three Little Pigs app, for both the iPad and the iPhone. Here’s how Cool Mom Tech says you can enter:
Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight Friday April 1 (EST) with 3 PIGSIPHONEor 3 PIGSIPAD in the subject (pick one please!). Just tell us how old your kids are and why they’d like it. We’ll draw four winners at random. Good luck!
“When my children discovered the Three Little Pigs storybook app on a friend’s iPad, I had absolutely zero doubt in my mind that we’d be running home to purchase it that very night. In a word, this app is masterful. Or to use more words, it’s charming, it’s humorous, and darn it, where were iPads when I was a kid?”
“Kids will have a ball when they flick the pigs to make them jump and spin, tilt the device to see more of the scene, tap the pigs to help them build their houses and so much more! There are lots of hidden surprises like spiders and a sweet little rabbit who wants to be friends with the pigs. You can download this app… and keep your little techno-savvy munchkins entertained as they become immersed in this classic tale for the digital generation.”
What goes into developing a great children’s storybook app? A life-long fascination with computers and gaming technology, that’s what! Recently I talked to Will Bryan (photo of his studio above) about his experience developing The Three Little Pigs. Will’s background is in video games and before joining Nosy Crow as Head of Apps Development – Engineering, he spent 13 years working for Nintendo and Microsoft on titles such as Banjo-Tooie and Viva Piñata.
What was your first computer?
I grew up around computers and the first one I remember having was the Sinclair ZX81. It was customised with a proper push-button keyboard rather than the membrane one they came with. We soon moved on to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro, Atari ST and beyond. About five years ago I went onto the Internet and tracked down some of these old machines.
What kind of work have you done in the past?
I’ve built websites, developed several video games, and for the last couple of years I’ve been looking into original ideas for Xbox 360 Kinect by day and original ideas for iPhone by night, which is how I came to be at Nosy Crow.
Why have you gone from games to making apps?
Game development has become a bit of a monster. It’s no longer possible for an individual on a game team to have a nice little idea, build it, polish it and have everybody smiling about it on the same day. App development scales all that back. Individuals can have an idea for an app and ship it within a month if they want. Nosy Crow has eleven employees and not all of them are involved in the app side of the business. Those of us that are can sit around a small table and just get on with it. Ideas shared, suggestions thrown about, decisions made.
How do you and your brother Ed (Nosy Crow’s Head of Apps Development – Creative) work together to create an app?
Like a well oiled machine – if only that were true! We’ve been working together for more than 25 years, so we are starting to get the hang of it. My work usually consists of finding how we take an idea and make it a reality. Ed’s much better at honing the fit and finish of an idea once it’s working. He provided a lot of feedback on The Three Little Pigs app features, like flicking the characters. We end up exchanging emails with made up words in them: “Are they flicky enough yet?” “Is the pingyness too much?” If this goes on too long we end up looking at things together and demonstrating issues.
How do you work with illustrators?
It’s a very collaborative process. Since this is a new format, there’s a lot of learning for everyone involved. I’ve found that the quicker we prototype a scene or a character that we can look at and play with, the better. In The Three Little Pigs, we took the original 2d illustrations and arranged them in a 3d model, a bit like a puppet theatre. Each illustration had a place on the stage and we could look around the stage to reveal different things. The accelerometer on the iPad and iPhone allowed us to show how a 2d illustration could be made into so much more.
On the Animal SnApp series we’re working closely with Nikalas and Tim on how to animate their artwork for the app. Their illustration style is very different to that of The Three Little Pigs. As part of our discussions, Nikalas and Tim created a brief video clip to demonstrate how the animation should work. On my side, I expect we’ll produce a bunch of very small prototypes for this project as we work out the best way to proceed.
What was the best part of making The Three Little Pigs?
I always like the last few weeks or months of a project the best. You reach a point where you are on the home straight, the product is mostly complete and you’re busy polishing everything to make it the best it can be. Working with Robin on the music was great. He was keen to make some of the music interactive, which you can hear working in Scene 3 where the pigs first leave home: each pig has his or her own instrument that fades into the music when tapped. It’s detail like this that makes me very proud of The Three Little Pigs.
What was the biggest challenge?
There’s always a worry about whether it’ll all come together on time. The Three Little Pigs is my first iPad/iPhone/iPod touch app and although it’s “just software” I don’t have another engineer sitting across the office from me to talk through problems. Fortunately, over the years I’ve become quite good at figuring things out for both myself and others. Many problems have been solved away from the computer and at the most unexpected moments.
You must see lots of apps. Can you tell us about your favourite ones?
It’s funny, every few weeks we gather together at the Crow’s Nest to discuss projects and the table fills up with iPads, iPhones and iPod touches. I can always tell which devices are mine as I seem to have far fewer apps installed than anyone else. I’ve got a little puzzle game on my iPhone called Glow Puzzle that I continue to enjoy. I like it because I can take as long as I like to study the puzzle before making a move. I’m still waiting for the original Lemmings games to appear on the App Store. I’d be first in line to download them!
What advice would you give to children interested in making their own apps, or computer games?
I recommend looking at other people’s apps or games and begin to question how they work. What happens when you press a button or tap a character? What does a character do if you don’t do anything? If you start to break apps down, they’re often a lot less complicated than they first appear. Software developers are very good at using tricks to make things look cleverer than they really are. Plenty of smoke and mirrors!
What are you working on now?
Our next app is another 3D fairy tale: Cinderella. I’ll be building upon the code I created for The Three Little Pigs but there will also be several new features and some very cool interactive surprises. With the iPad2, I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do to make our storybook apps even more exciting for children.
We’ve been cooking up a deal on our apps for a while, and today we announced that Carlsen will be publishing in German, and Gallimard Jeunesse will be publishing in French, a full range of Nosy Crow’s story book apps, beginning with our The Three Little Pigs app. The picture shows Carlsen’s Klaus Humann (right) and Frank Kuehne (left) with Kate, signing the agreement on the Nosy Crow stand today.
This is really great for Nosy Crow, not least because Carlsen and Gallimard are best-in-class children’s book publishers with real vision in the area of digital publishing, so they were natural partners for this digital publishing adventure. Many app publishers have chosen to bundle languages into one app, but we really believe that there are business model advantages in a digital version of “co-edition” publishing. It means that everyone gets a great app while managing their financial risk. Just as importantly, the partner publishers bring their publishing skills to create the best possible foreign-language version that will appeal to parents and children in their own language. And we know that they can provide the kind of publicity and connection with people who might want to buy them that will the apps really visible – and successful – in their own countries.”
Klaus Humann who’s the Publisher of Carlsen Germany, says:
“The question is: how to entertain the next generation of kids? Books will still play the most important part, but other media will fascinate girls and boys alike. The partnership between Carlsen Germany and Nosy Crow is an important new element in the strategic development of our digital publishing that we have started very successfully with our Pixi and Connie apps. There are only a few publishers who have the ideas and the vision for the years to come, so we are happy to co-operate with a partner whose capacity in this innovative field is outstanding and who shares our sense of quality as much as our spirit of publishing adventure.”
Hedwige Pasquet who’s President of Gallimard Jeunesse, says:
“We are excited to be able to add to our apps publishing programme through this collaboration with the talented and imaginative team at Nosy Crow. Like us, they are interested in bringing book publishing skills to reinvent children’s reading experience for the digital age. They have developed not only the best picture book app ever published, but have re-defined what a children’s storybook app can be, demonstrating the full potential of this new medium. These apps combine top quality with rich inventiveness: best-in-class for sure – in fact, in a class of their own!”
Today, Deb and I went to the first Tools of Change conference at Bologna. Tools of Change is a sequence of conferences about publishing in the digital age, but today’s was the first to focus exclusively on children’s books.
Organised, at least in part, by Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot, who couldn’t be more passionate in his conviction about the importance of apps as a new form of story-telling for children, it was a 200+ person conference with delegates from 27 countries… and a great success.
Deb spoke eloquently about the interactivity that’s at the heart of our apps development. She spoke about the interactivity that is at the heart of the content – we want to creat apps that children want to read, explore and play with. She spoke about the interactivity that is the basis of how we create an app, pulling together original text, audio, music, illustration, animation and coding into a whole in a way that involves lots of collaboration. She spoke about the interactivity that we have with readers and buyers of the app, as the digital world provides us ways of finding out – and acting upon – what our customers think of what we’re doing. She was mobbed by publishers at the end of the panel discussion in which she took part, all keen to find out more about what we do and how we do it.
And, at the very beginnning of the conference, I delivered the first keynote address. Frankly, this was playing against type: I could bore for Britain about Nosy Crow and what we believe is important, but I thought that the first keynote should sort of sketch out the landscape that the rest of the conference might cover. Armed only with data from Book Marketing Limited and The Futures Company, together with a few opinions, I talked about, on the one hand, digital selling and marketing of print books and of eBooks and other reading experiences; and, on the other hand. about digital products. First I talked about what was happening now in those two areas, and then I looked at what might happen in the future.
The opportunities for digital selling and marketing are already huge. One in four books – and one in five children’s books – in the UK is sold via an internet-only retailer (and Amazon is much the largest of these) so digital selling is a real and growing fact of life. Websites, electronic marketing and social media have opened up a way for publishers, who have traditionally “handed off” relationships with readers and book-buyers to retailers, to communicate directly with their consumers in a two-way conversation, and we have seen the development of the “consumer critic” – blog and rate-and-review website-enabled people whose opinion is trusted by other consumers, perhaps more than they trust the voice of the professional critic.
The opportunities for digital selling and marketing will, I think, only grow in future, and I quoted Aaron Miller of Bookglutton:
“Social publishing is the natural evolution of publishing as a business. It encompasses the web and all new distribution platforms including the way people read and discover on them… Social publishing involves a deep interest in, and study of, what happens to a text after it’s disseminated – how readers interact with it, how they share it, how they copy it, how they talk about it.”
The market for digital product is still evolving. Ebooks (and I’m not including apps here) accounted for only 1.26% of the UK book market by volume in 2010 and 0.4% of the UK children’s book market in the same year.
Nevertheless, the rate of adoption of digital reading is accelerating: in January 2010, just 3% of US book-buyers had bought a digital book, but by January 2011, that figure was 13%. And where the US leads, I think, the rest of the world will follow. Looking ahead, one concern is the consumer expectation that digital product should be cheap, or, indeed, free. As Lyle Undercoffler of Disney said, “Free is the four-letter word of digital publishing – the word that we don’t want to hear.” Another concern are the ongoing challenges to copyright. Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post welcoming England’s Digital Economy Bill, and it now seems perfectly possible that the current government may not implement this protection of creators’ rights. Whether or not this Bill represents exactly the right way to protect the rights of creators is less important to this post today than the fact that this challenge to copyright may be in line with consumer expectations that they should be able to interact with, personalise and change the things that they read in ways that suit them. I quoted Adam Penenberg:
“Instead of stagnant words on a page we will layer video throughout the text, add photos, hyperlink material, engage social networks of readers who will add their own videos, photos, and wikified information so that these multimedia books become living, breathing, works of art.”
When I think about the impact of the digital world on publishing, I think of this quote from the twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter:
“A railroad through new country upsets all conditions of location, all cost calculations, all production functions within its radius of influence and hardly any ways of doing things which have seemed optimal before remain so afterwards.”
The role of the publisher is changing. If there is this thing that we call “content” – ideas, words, images, audio, video, animation – and there is a reader, and there is a process for getting that content to the reader, we need to think strategically about what our role in that process is. We don’t, as publishers, have any kind of right to play a part in that process. We have to carve out our place in the process, by bringing to it something that we can do better than anyone else.
No-one owes us publishers lunch. We have to earn it.
It’s funny to think that we didn’t include music in our initial plans for The Three Little Pigs. Back then, we didn’t know how much it would underscore the story’s drama and the characters’ personalities. Thanks to Robin Beanland, now Three Little Pigs app enthusiasts everywhere are humming along as they read. By day, Robin works in the games industry creating audio and composing music for Rare Ltd as their audio director. In his spare time, he’s the man behind the music of The Three Little Pigs app. We thought you might like to know more.
What sort of work have you done in the past? Have you ever made music for an app?
I’ve been composing music for video games for the past 17 years. Prior to that I wrote music for TV with a smattering of session work on various albums and library CDs. I can honestly say this is the first children’s book I’ve written music for.
How did you get involved with The Three Little Pigs app?
Ed Bryan called me just before Christmas and asked if I would be interested in writing some music for a project he was working on. If memory serves correctly, I think I replied something along the lines of “I thought you’d never ask.” ☺
Did you use real instruments to make the music or is it digitally generated?
I played a bit of trumpet and harmonica, the rest of the score was generated using sampled versions of traditional orchestral instruments.
What sort of feelings were you trying to evoke with the music?
The first thing I wanted to do was to write a tune that was upbeat, positive and friendly. I wanted the tune to allow me to introduce the personalities of the three main characters. This is the first piece of music you hear on the title screen of the app and it’s one of the main themes that runs throughout.
Next I focused on the wolf. I didn’t want anything too scary but I still wanted the music to be ever so slightly menacing. I wanted it to be something that I could have fun with. I think this comes across in the scenes where the wolf is chasing the pigs down the road and at the climax of the story where I use ‘laughing’ woodwinds and wah trumpet.
Why did you make each character have unique music?
I wanted to use the music as a tool for reinforcing each character’s personality. I chose certain instruments to help make that happen. So you have whistle, piccolo and banjo for the little pigs and contra bassoon and bass clarinet for the wolf. I think listening to Peter and the Wolf as a child probably influenced my decisions about which instruments to use for each of the characters in The Three Little Pigs.
What was the most challenging thing about working on this project?
To be honest the biggest challenge was the amount of time I had to get the music written! The project fell around the Christmas period and an unusually busy January. I did have a nice view from the studio window to inspire me though.
What was the most fulfilling part of working on this app?
For me it was the interactive music. I wanted the music to change as children tapped on different parts of the screen and on the characters. When I initially suggested this to Will he said we didn’t have time to implement it. But within hours I got an email from him saying “Actually I think we can do it!” A few days later Ed and Will popped round with the latest version of the app and Will had worked his magic. I remember giggling as he tapped the pigs and we heard their individual melodies fade up. It was brilliant!
On Tuesday evening, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row broadcast an interview with me; with Henry Volans of Faber Digital; with a representative of new French company, Byook and with Philip Jones from The Bookseller. We were talking about enhanced ebooks and apps. And yesterday, Kirkus online published a (starred) review of The Three Little Pigs. A week or so ago, the Times Online blog, School Gate included The Three Little Pigs in a round-up of apps (it’s behind the paywall but you can see it here).
It’s great – really great – to have this coverage… but so far, though we’ve had a lot of really excellent online review coverage from bloggers and app specialist sites for The Three Little Pigs app, it strikes us – and fellow app developers certainly seem to agree – that that it’s a challenge to get reviews or features from established book critics in the traditional media (by which I mean established print newspapers and magazines and broadcasters) about apps and enhanced ebooks. From our perspective, this seems to be particularly true for one of the most exciting areas of digital publishing: children’s storybooks.
This is perhaps because the market, and therefore the readership, for apps and enhanced ebooks is in its infancy, and so, therefore, is the market and readership for reviews of apps and enhanced ebooks. But we think it’s also perhaps because there are no established criteria for judging an app or an enhanced ebook, and credible critics with deep experience in judging children’s stories have yet to emerge.
The truth is that no-one’s an expert in this rapidly-evolving area, but here are some questions that we ask ourselves when we are judging a story book app:
Does it have child-appeal?
Why is this story presented as an app, rather than as a printed book?
How easy is the app to understand and navigate?
Is the language, art and interactivity age-appropriate?
How have the creators used the features of the devices to tell the story in a new and engaging way?
How have the creators balanced the narrative thread of the book against the opportunities for interactivity?
Has the interactivity been woven into the story in a meaningful way that enhances the story?
Frankly, we are more than grateful for any coverage and feedback that we can get, wherever it comes from. The App Store’s rate and review section offers an opportunity for us to hear back from real readers, and we also offer the opportunity within the app itself for readers to contact us to tell us what they think.
Less than a year on from the launch of the iPad, and only 18 months on from Winged Chariot’s launch of the first picture book for iPad, this evaluation and these conversations are only just beginning.
For those who don’t know, World Book Day is run as a charity by the UK book industry to celebrate reading and to increase children’s access to books. It’s celebrated throughout the UK and Ireland, particularly by children (though, this year, there’s World Book Night for grown-ups).
At Nosy Crow we’re big supporters of World Book Day – I’m on the World Book Day Executive Committee. This year we are celebrating digital storytelling too. For 24 hours, beginning at midnight tonight and ending at midnight 3 March, our Three Little Pigs app for iPad will be available for £1.19 ($1.99 in the US and 1.59 Euros). The app’s normal price is £4.99 ($7.99 in the US and 5.99 Euros).
The app has received the most extraordinary reviews. Just this afternoon, The Times’ School Gate blog (@schoolgate on Twitter) called The Three Little Pigs “fresh and new. . . our favourite app of all” in their round up of Top Children’s iPad apps. You can read the full review here.
Every year on World Book Day children dress up as their favourite character. Here in the office we are proud parents to children going to school tomorrow as Ruby the Red Fairy, the witch from Axel Scheffler’sRoom on the Broom, Pippi Longstocking, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz... and, in a tribute to the BBC adaptation: Miss Flyte from Bleak House, (complete with clip-on birds.) Children are given £1 vouchers to take to bookshops to exchange for books, and there’s a range of special World Book Day £1 books to ensure that no-one’s left out. The brilliant Philip Reeve is even coming into my children’s school to talk about books, writing and reading.
My 4-year-old wears sneakers with Velcro straps. My 6-year-old’s shoes have laces, but he often comes home with the strings flying, his heels popping out of the soles. Once, he arrived missing a sock. His sneaker had fallen off at recess, and after stepping in a puddle, he threw his sock in the trash. He was too busy to stop playing and tie the laces.
Nevertheless, my boys are technologically savvy. They can turn on my iPad, find their favorite apps and get them running without my help. And according to a new study, they’re right in line with their peers. Here’s a clip from a Wall Street Journal story:
In a recent survey, 14% of kids age 4 or 5 could tie their shoes, while 21% could play or operate at least one smartphone app.
In the same study, which polled 2,200 mothers in several developed countries, 22% of children that age knew at least one Web address, 34% could open a Web browser and 76% could play an online computer game. By comparison, 31% knew to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency, 35% could get their own breakfast (which we assume doesn’t mean making eggs) and 53% knew their home address…
The study also found some interesting differences among countries — like the fact that 30% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 in the U.S. could operate smartphone apps, while 11% of kids in Japan could. About 70% of young children in the U.K. and France could play computer games, compared with 61% in the U.S. and 44% in Japan.
Since I began consulting to Nosy Crow, preparing to publicize the launch of the 3-D Three Little Pigs app, I’ve seen firsthand how easy it is for children to learn digital skills. In fact, they take to the screen much more intuitively than adults.
My boys have tested the Three Little Pigs app at various stages of development, and where an adult might fumble with the screen, trying to figure out how to make the pigs talk, run and jump, the boys just get it. Most importantly, from my perspective, the app is reinforcing their reading skills. They read the words while the narrator speaks. They direct the dialogue by tapping on the characters, and my 6-year-old uses the Read By Myself feature.
What’s even more interesting is the way the app has sparked small bursts of creativity when they aren’t using the iPad. Several months ago, my older son wrote a short story of the Three Little Pigs on his own initiative. No prompting whatsoever.
Most recently, as I was making dinner one night, both boys grabbed paper and pens and, lo and behold, started designing their own apps. My 4-year-old drew a crane with a wrecking ball that knocked down a building. He made several screens, and in each one the building got bigger and bigger. As for my 6-year-old, his app is a story of a monkey trying to get bananas from a tree. In each scene, the screens gets harder as the monkey dodges flying coconuts, lightening bolts and snow balls.
Truth be told, they had recently seen a news story about a 14-year-old boy who had created a best selling app called Bubble Ball. They decided that they, too, wanted to make their own apps.
So are they on their way to writing complex computer code? Not quite yet. But they are way ahead of their parents. And even if they can’t tie their shoes, I have no doubt they’ll be just fine.
Now could someone please design a shoelace tying app?
— This post was written by U.S.-based marketing consultant, Andi Silverman who is helping us promote our first app next month.
Actually, you get lots of giggling, “not by the hair on my chinny chin chin” chanting, some ooh-ing and ahh-ing, a semi-serious discussion about whether it’s okay to choose the straw house as your favourite character, ideas for our next app, multiple swan dives off the sofa, and a whole lot of fun.
And soon we’ll have a very cool app video trailer to share with you. Watch this space.
The New York Times recently wrote an article about the rising popularity of the iPhone and apps for toddlers. Parents are increasingly turning to app-filled devices to occupy their kids. A little iPad or iPhone time in the doctor’s office waiting room, the supermarket, and of course the back seat of the car really can keep everyone happy.
But the New York Times story raises questions about whether using the device is harmful to the developing minds of young children. From the NYT:
“Along with fears about dropping and damage, however, many parents sharing iPhones with their young ones feel nagging guilt. They wonder whether it is indeed an educational tool, or a passive amusement like television. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advised parents not to let their children watch any TV until they are past their second birthday.”
With every technological development, there’s bound to be some hand-wringing. Ever since television was invented, parents have had to balance screen time with other activities. Spending too much time using any sort of screen can’t be good for anyone. But we believe that apps can provide an educational experience. And we’re grateful to have an opportunity to make apps that don’t merely pacify children.
Our apps inspire kids. When designed with a child’s curiosity in mind, an app can open up new worlds, enhance literacy and foster a child’s own creativity. For us, one of the most exciting parts of creating an app is testing it with kids and watching them explore.
As we near the end of development on our 3-D Three Little Pigs app, we’ve been sharing it with more and more young readers. They hear the story and read along. They spin the pigs in the air, make the van race ahead, help the wolf blow down the houses and impersonate the characters’ voices. We’ve even seen some American children try on British accents! And we see this as a good thing.
But the best thing of all is something we hadn’t anticipated. We are seeing kids take something away from the app and incorporate it into play when they aren’t using the iPad.
In one case, a 6-year-old boy in New York used our 3-D Three Little Pigs app and then – completely unprompted – grabbed paper and pen and made his own booklet of the story. He took the digital experience and made it physical. He took the app we created and created something himself. If you didn’t already view the video above, see what I mean right here.
Here’s a sneak peek of a scene from our forthcoming 3-D retelling of The Three Little Pigs. It’s still a work in progress but we love how this app is coming together and wanted to share it.
If you think this looks good here, wait until you see it on an iPad!
We’re in full production mode now and operating at a feverish pace. Our stellar development team is hard at work animating Mrs. Pig and sorting out the mechanics of how speech bubbles appear when characters comment on the story. Deb and Kate have been working through our apps business model and pricing strategy. And next week – along with a few voice actors – we’re heading into the studio with Ali Muirden of Creative Content to record the app’s narration and sound effect tracks.
Tomorrow Kate will be in Milan at EDITECH, the Italian conference on technological innovation in publishing where she’s been invited to participate in a roundtable about digital strategies, challenges and the opportunities ahead. If you can catch her when she’s not speaking or tweeting (follow her at #editech10) she just might show you the latest build of our 3-D Three Little Pigs.
Nosy Crow is pretty excited today: the iPad goes on sale in the US (and will launch in the UK later this month).
As Xeni Jardin says in an article in today’s The Times (from which the image illustrating today’s post is also taken), “I found myself wondering what forms of book this device might make possible, books embedded with video, audio or large high-reslution images – possibilities that could make e-books feel less like frozen digital versions of paper, and more like something infinitely dynamic, and way better than paper altogether.”
Way better than paper? We think that paper will continue to have a place (as our news post Book production for dummies suggests), but we’re exploring what we can do to enhance the child’s reading experience through the use of touch-screen devices, and we’ll tell you what we’re doing as soon as we can. In the meantime, we welcome the arrival of the iPad.