Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quick Draws: iStoryTime's Picture Book Apps Come Hot Off the Presses

Toy Story 3 set box office records this weekend, which wasn't too surprising. But what did come as a surprise was that Buzz Lightyear and the crew were heading toward infinity and beyond with the release of Toy Story 3 apps for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch -- all on the film’s launch weekend.

The digital book publishing business is turning around books quickly enough to tie in with movie releases, which hasn't always been the case. Two other recent big-screen hits, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After, also launched picture book apps the same day the films hit theaters, allowing kids to walk out of the movie house and download the story for the drive home. Both were published by iStoryTime, which is part of FrogDogMedia.

“It was less than eight weeks from the finish of the movie to our book being published,” said iStoryTime founder Graham Farrar. “It used to be that you could not publish a book at the same time as the release because they were finishing just weeks before the films hit theaters.”

As we’ve learned from previous interviews with picture book app producers, the turnaround time to make a picture book app for iPad or iPhone is just a matter of weeks.

“Certainly someone could send us a fantastic Halloween app book today,” Graham said, “and it would be a non-issue to get that out by Halloween.”

iStoryTime has been on the scene for about a year and a half and has 35 books in their catalog – making them one of the largest picture book app publishers. They have worked with DreamWorks on the movie tie-ins, but they also publish little-known authors and illustrators, such as their popular Binky the Pink Elephant, written by Sonowa Jackson and illustrated by Jaclyn Mednicov, which has sold upwards of 10,000 copies.

“That's the beauty in books,” says Graham, a father of two young children, who used to tote bags of picture books out to restaurants but now totes their books in his iPhone. “If you look on the bookshelf in kids’ rooms, there’s plenty of room for Dr. Seuss and Binky the Pink Elephant and How to Train Your Dragon. And it’s constantly evolving as they get older.”

That matters a lot to picture book authors and illustrators trying to break into the market, so it’s great to hear a publisher like Graham leaving the door open to new talent.

iStoryTime accepts submissions from authors, but the story has to be illustrated – which is completely different from what traditional book publishers want. And while they are open to retellings of the classics or original stories, they are only interested in buying the rights for electronic distribution – meaning an author with iStoryTime could sell his or her digital book to a traditional publisher.

“The value is in the content these authors create,” said Graham, addressing skeptics who are still leery of digital books. “Michael Jackson’s Thriller was just as good on CD as vinyl.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

PBS Apps and Building Young Brains

Maybe the kids really are all right.

A recent study by the broccoli and asparagus of children’s programming, PBS Kids, found educational benefits in young children’s use of gaming apps. The study showed that children ages 3 to 7 who played with the PBS app Martha Speaks, based on the popular TV cartoon, showed an improvement in their vocabulary by as much as 31 percent. PBS Kids announced initial results of research studying the educational benefits of mobile gaming apps in conjunction with the 7th Annual Games for Change Festival in New York.

"Mobile apps can be a great learning tool in the hands of children," Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of children's media for PBS, says in their press release. "This research is important in helping to better understand and guide the development of new apps that improve the value of children's screen time with significant educational outcomes."

A story on CNET says the study provides real evidence that iPhone and iPod games may not be rotting kids' brains. That is, so long as the apps they’re looking at are educational. And that is the key for parents perplexed by how to navigate through the vast wilderness of iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and Android applications.

Just as Mom and Dad have to decide between Elmo vs. the Power Rangers when allowing some TV time, the same goes for choosing quality apps. Junior can spend his time blowing up monsters in mindless games, or he can focus on learning to name shapes, colors, and patterns in engaging new ways.

As with every other medium kids consume -- books, movies, TV shows, websites, and video games -- there is plenty of trash out there. And PBS, thankfully, seems to be leading the way once again, helping parents make good use of all these portable, app-based gadgets.