Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Children's Books, Authors, & Apps, Oh My!

Digital picture books have arrived on the scene, and I am trying to understand what it means for aspiring picture book authors and illustrators. So I contacted David K. Park, co-founder of MeeGenius, a publisher of digital picture books for the iPad, iPod Touch, and the iPhone. I asked him how the whole process works.

“You would submit your manuscript,” David explains. “Our editors would review it. If we agree to publish it, we would enhance it with audio playback and word highlighting, and create the personalization tool for the text. We
 would then make the book available on the web, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad in days.”

Days? He must have meant to say months.

“This process would be weeks instead of 18 months to bring a traditional book to market.”

Okay, so what’s the catch for authors and illustrators? We must have to pay to bring our stories to life, no?

“We are not currently charging authors and illustrators to enhance and distribute their books," David says. "We understand they are plunging into this paradigm, so we want to be as supportive as possible.

“We offer 30 percent royalty on the net price of a book. For example, for a $1.99 book purchased on iTunes, Apple received 30 percent of that, which leaves $1.40. Authors and illustrators received 30 percent of that $1.40, or $0.42. So if an author/illustrator creates a book that gets downloaded 10,000 times, they received $4,200.”

That 30 percent would be split between an author and an illustrator, so for picture book authors, that’s about 15 percent, or in this example, $0.21.

How does that compare with the traditional model? According to Harold Underdown’s Purple Crayon website, for a traditional 32-page picture book priced at $16,
“Half of the $16 is the wholesaler and bookseller's part--their overhead and profits. On average, the publisher receives $8, or perhaps a little more. Assuming that the publisher does a print run of 10,000 copies (this is fairly typical), of that $8.00,
• $3.20 is overhead
$1.60 is the royalty to author and illustrator

• $1.76 is the cost of paper, printing, and binding (binding is about half of that)

• $0.64 is the cost of preparing the plates
This leaves 80 cents profit per book, assuming all goes well and that the entire printing is sold. And assuming, on the other hand, no subsidiary rights income, which would increase the amount of profit.”
Let's point that out again: That $1.60 is split between author and illustrator, so for the writer, we're talking about $0.80 per book sold. Compared with about $0.21 in the e-book example. So how can an author hope to come out ahead selling digital picture books for $1.99 online?

It remains to be seen how these markets will play out. One thing to keep in mind is that not every traditional picture book is going to sell 10,000 copies. Many do not even come close. While for the digital book, the market is very different.

“There are currently 75 million iPhone, iPod Touches, and iPads in the United States,” David says, “so even a small fraction of that market is very large.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

MeeGenius and Picture Book Apps: An Interesting Story

I had picture book apps on my mind after attending a meeting up at my kids' school last week. A learning counselor was talking about summer activities parents could do to keep kids' math and reading skills alive. One mother said her daughter wanted to read books on the Kindle, just like Mom and Dad. But she was worried about her daughter learning to read in an electronic format. What about the act of turning the page? Basic literacy skills? Engaging with a real book?

I contacted David K. Park who, along with Wandy Hoh, is founder of MeeGenius, a publisher of digital picture books for the iPad, iPod Touch, and the iPhone. MeeGenius has been listed on the New and Noteworthy section of iTunes, the What’s Hot section, and a staff favorite for the iPad.

“We launched our beta site and introduced the iPhone and iPad app on April 1st of this year,” says David in an online interview with dot.momming. Remember that the iPad hit the market on April 3, so they’re off and running.

“We’re ultimately creating these beautiful works to be read and enjoyed by children, so whatever medium they enjoy the most, we should adapt and provide it for them,” says David, who is the father of two young boys. “Furthermore, a digital platform will allow so many more talented authors and illustrators to get their works out there in the hands of children.”

Okay, sure, but let's get to the point: Change is bad. Everybody knows that, right?

What does an app publisher like MeeGenius have to say to calm parents and authors who are quaking in our collective boots? For authors and illustrators, we want our books to stand the test of time – in a library, on a bookshelf, under Junior’s bed! What are we supposed to do with all these changes in book publishing?

“We think you should embrace it and will be pleasantly surprised by it.”

I can see what it means for parents like me: I’m driving on our annual 11-hour roadtrip to Grandmom’s house, only this time, instead of toting a bag full of bulky picture books to keep the troops happy in the car, I download an entire library of them. In app form, those picture books are accessible at all times – whether we’re waiting in line at the St. Louis Arch, waiting for lunch at yet another Cracker Barrel, or trying to fill the endless miles.

As parents, we want our kids reading and engaging with books. So as iPad and other platforms enter the market, are parents ready for this new medium? Will they believe that their kids are getting the same out of this new experience as they are from traditional books?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bright idea: iPad and Children's Bedtime

It’s bedtime, and part of the nightly ritual is reading a family favorite together before tucking in for the night. But the new routine might mean calling up an electronic book rather than pulling a traditional one down from a shelf.

But reader, beware. According to a recent story about sleep on CNN, the light from an e-reader might do exactly the opposite of what you want that nighttime story to do. Junior’s brain might be fooled into thinking it’s daytime, the researchers warn. So instead of slipping off to the land of nod, his brain might be sending him toward the land of naughty. As in our house:

Me: Look, Mr. Popper got a penguin!
Junior: I can touch my toes to my ears.
Me: Listen, Mr. Popper’s kids are going to meet the penguins!
Junior: . . . twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four. . .
Me: Stop jumping on the bed. Don’t you care about Mr. Popper and his penguins?
Junior: Who’s Mr. Popper?

As the CNN story reports, “. . . that light can be sufficiently stimulating to the brain to make it more awake and delay your ability to sleep.” That’s a quote from Phyllis Zee, a neuroscience professor at Northwestern University and director of the school's Center for Sleep & Circadian Biology.

And if there’s one thing that strikes terror in the heart of any parent at about 8:30 p.m., it’s a delay in someone’s ability to sleep.

The biggest culprit for the nighttime shenanigans appears to be the iPad, which features LED back lighting. Great resolution, the New York Times looks terrific, but you won’t be able to enjoy it tomorrow morning at breakfast because you’ll be too tired from trying to get Junior to finally fall asleep!

At bedtime, you’re better off using another e-reader like the Kindle, which shoots far less light into the eye. Or, that other thing that’s been on the market for a while.

A book.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Children's Book Week, Red-Hot Flamingnet

More on Children's Book Week, which began yesterday and runs through Sunday. I got a wee bit fired up about kids books and new technology when stumbled across Flamingnet, which the rest of the world out there might already know about. I tend to come late to things -- discovered The Sopranos in season three, got my first countertop mixer after a good 10 years of baking, and I still haven't gotten around to rollerblading yet. But Flamingnet represents more than just another website with a book angle. It's a wonderful virtual world of and for book nerds! A vast community of readers who speak and celebrate children's lit. How cool is that?

Flamingnet was begun by Seth Cassel back in 2002, when he was but a wee fifth-grader! It is devoted to promoting reading and writing among teens and tweens and includes reviews of children's books written by kids from all over the world -- in the United States, England, and Australia. And as if this weren't enough, Seth has developed a charity angle as well, donating books and money to organizations in need. Here's what they have to say about themselves:

Flamingnet is currently a growing young adult book website, and my father and I are kept very busy spreading the word about our site and working with all the reviewers, underwriters (adult volunteers that assist our student reviewers with their writing), Flamingnet members, authors, publishers, and publicists that have become part of our Flamingnet community. My grandfather in Florida is also very busy sending out letters to libraries telling them about my website.

Even Grandpop is in on it? I'm getting misty! What a wonderful family affair. It's an organic outgrowth of this boy's interest in books, supported and fostered by his father (a computer programmer) and grandfather, and now shared with the rest of the virtual reading world. Flamingnet's formula of having kids review books online and participate in the greater book community brings so many people into the conversation -- teens and tweens, classrooms, teachers, librarians, parents, and even grandparents. It's a wonderful digital age success story, and makes for another exciting chapter in the history of Children's Book Week.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Children's Book Week, Then and Now

We've come a long way, babies. Children's Book Week, which celebrates the best in children's literature, is close to 100 years old. It kicks off Monday and runs through May 16, and features author events in bookstores and libraries around the country, as well as online celebrations.

In many ways, this year's celebration is not too different from past years. Kids are still wandering the stacks at their local or school libraries and pulling books off the shelf. They're still discovering "new" authors and books, like Treasure Island, just as they did in 1919 when the first Children's Book Week was celebrated.

But a few things have crept onto my radar recently that are giving me grins about Children's Book Week. One was a teaser to help get kids excited: Parents or teachers can send kids a personalized Children's Book Week e-card. I couldn't help but think that those digital darlings who would enjoy the card might also like downloading their book as well.

Then I read an Amazon ad that pitched downloading free Kindle copies of classics like Treasure Island onto the iPad, Blackberry, or any other e-reading device. And that's when I realized how far we've actually come.

Kids today have so many avenues for accessing quality media. And the ease and convenience of getting books into their hands is unprecedented. Sure, those hands might already be holding a video game. But a classic or contemporary novel is merely a click away. Think about it -- as these kids (or Mom and Dad) tote around their iPhones, iPads, Kindles, or the like, they're also carrying around a vast library of books.

They have a world of wonderful reading available to them, literally at their fingertips.