Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kirkus Revs Its Discovery Engine for iPad

Kirkus Reviews, the curmudgeonly review journal that looks at more than 500 books each month, has moved into app-land. And not a moment too soon, when I consider some of the stinkers I've recently purchased in the iTunes store.

Last month Kirkus began reviewing picture book apps -- from tried-and-true classics to brand new titles created just for the iPad. About 50 apps are already reviewed on the site, and a Top 10 list highlights their faves. Also in the works, according to a press release, is a discovery engine for the iPad that will feature app demonstrations along with interviews with authors and developers.
"Parents will have the opportunity to hone their search by answering 5 quick questions about their child. Kirkus will then return a selection of book apps to match their child’s interest. The questions include gender, age, price range, visual interests, and interactive elements."
Think of it as your neighborhood children's bookseller, who has gotten to know you and your child's interests over the years, only now the chit-chat is cut a little short.

That Kirkus is venturing into this terrain is not all that surprising, as this is the future of reading. But that it is reviewing -- and giving stars -- to material that some diehards would not dare call "a book" does raise an eyebrow. Here's an excerpt from a starred review of Bartleby's Book of Buttons:
"Less a straight-ahead storybook than a combination of story and interactive puzzles, each page includes lighted buttons to press, keys and cranks to fiddle with."
The book app discovery engine, which will be available in March, is part of the journal's repositioning since its purchase last year. While some authors still smarting from scathing Kirkus reviews quietly cheered its seeming demise in late 2009, parents, teachers, and librarians who need help slogging through bookshelves (both the wooden kind and the digital ones) have a lot to be grateful about.

I hope to make good use of it. Now, if only I could take those stinkers I downloaded earlier this month and resell them at Powell's.


  1. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary on the children's book app landscape (and the challenges it has raised.) There's often such a fine line between books and games in app-land. We've seen apps categorized as "games" or "education" that have more story content and/or literary value than many "books." On the other hand, we've seen some "books" that are nothing more than a fancy game with words. That's one of the reasons we felt so strongly about taking children's book apps on; it's nearly impossible to tell whether or not a title has merit simply by looking at the screenshots in iTunes. For the record, we only accept apps that are categorized as books for review.

    We're definitely aware that some people are hesitant to embrace the medium. Our own children's editor is a long-time librarian who is fiercely devoted to quality literature for kids. That said, when she paired up with Omar Gallaga (a contributor to NPR's All Tech Considered) many were pleased to find both a literary and technical perspective in the same review.

    We do hope you'll make good use of our app review page, and also hope that you'll continue contributing to the conversation. Looks like you've been offering up lots of great info and ideas on this blog!

    Warm regards,
    Laura Jenkins
    Kirkus Reviews

    P.S. We just got our YouTube channel going, and will be posting app demos on an ongoing basis. If you're interested in checking out our top ten for 2010, visit http://www.youtube.com/kirkusreviews

  2. Hi, Kate,

    Thanks for being out there looking at this brave new world of publishing. Just today, I finished getting a picture book ready to submit for consideration to MeeGenius, a companny you blogged about last year (which is how I heard about it). Now, with the link to the Kirkus reviews of apps, I see a whole lot of new places where authors and illustrators might be able to send their work. MeeGenius, at this point, doesn't do any animation or interaction. It would be a lot of fun to create a picture book in which the characters moved. The real world of science meets the magical world of Harry Potter!

    Take care, and people DO read your blog --
    Sheila Welch (Who is on the "lunatic fringe," being published by namelos.)

  3. I'd love to see Kirkus focus this work such that teachers and schools can benefit from it, as so many schools desperately need good materials to build readers and writers, and I anticipate the e-content is going to be critical in the near future (and already is being taken advantage of in some settings).