Tuesday, September 20, 2011

JibJab Brings Its Sense of Fun to Kids Books

JibJab's Starring You holiday and birthday greetings have been cracking us up since 2007, when the first e-cards that allow users to put the heads of loved ones into hilarious videos made their debut. Now brothers Evan and Gregg Spiridellis -- Jib and Jab themselves -- are dipping their toes in the waters of children's apps with JibJab Jr.

The first title -- The Biggest Pizza Ever -- comes free when you download the JibJab Jr. app. If you like, you can buy the other titles currently offered in the app's home screen, Alphabet Wrangler and Ocean Commotion, each for $7.99. Or go for the monthly JibJab Jr. plan at $3.99 and receive a new book automatically each month.

Personalizing the JibJab line of books is incredibly simple. In a few keystrokes, you can upload a photo of your wee one and type in her name, then sit back and enjoy the rollicking ride. Prepare yourselves for some fun.

Because dotMomming has enjoyed JibJab over the years (spending countless hours creating wacky holiday cards for everyone she could think of), we reached out to Gregg Spiridellis about the new children's book line, what's behind this latest move, and what's ahead for JibJab.

DotMomming: Among the hilarious features to JibJab cards is the audio. My writing group still chuckles over the fabulous JibJab holiday card they received last December, set to Jose Feliciano's Feliz Navidad. With the JibJab Jr. books for kids, there is no audio, no gentle piano accompaniment, no "read to me" feature as with many apps. Was this a deliberate decision to focus on the story and the printed words?

Gregg Spiridellis: Yes, it was a deliberate decision and, yes, it was a mistake. We were so focused on making this about the parent reading to the child that we missed the opportunity to insert subtle sounds that enhance the experience. We are working on it now, and it will be the first major feature enhancement for us.

DM: Many picture book apps include interactivity where kids tap on puffy clouds to make it rain or swipe a tree to make it grow taller. With The Biggest Pizza Ever, the interactivity is in creating characters. With a few simple steps, kids can import their own picture and feature themselves as the hero of the story. Can you talk about the decisions that went into the book's interactivity?

GS: Our mission is to enhance the time parents spend with their children sharing stories at bedtime. As parents, my brother and I find it frustrating when we are trying to tell the story and all the kids want to do is click the screen. There is nothing wrong with interactivity, especially for learning games, but for bedtime reading, we think it distracts from the storytelling experience. We may do some experimentation with this in the future, but unlike sound, which we are adding as quickly as possible, we are holding off on interactivity beyond the creation of the book itself.

DM: Picture book apps are exciting new creatures, and they are very much in their infancy. Can you talk about why JibJab decided to venture into this world and what you hope to do?

GS: The fact that there is so much room for re-invention of the bedtime storytelling experience with new technology is what excites us! We hope to leverage technology to create products that enhance the time parents spend telling stories to their kids!

DM: JibJab has a very particular sense of humor, and it comes through in the first example of your books, The Biggest Pizza Ever. Where or from whom does this sensibility come? Gregg? Evan? Is one brother funnier than the other? And what can we expect to see from you guys in the coming months?

GS: Everyone at JibJab is funny! That’s our business! While my brother and I decide on what stories get produced, The Biggest Pizza Ever is written by one of our very talented employees, Scott Emmons. In the coming months you will see more books with that JibJab sense of humor, aged-down for the 2- to 6-year-old people in your life!

DM: In a recent USA Today interview, you described the opportunity to "disrupt" children's publishing. What does that mean?

GS: We think new technology creates new opportunities to tell stories that will be far more immersive and engaging than what is possible on printed paper. The traditional publishers have built a business printing things on paper and distributing that paper to wholesalers (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.). We think the skills required to be a world-class children’s publisher in the future will be very different than the skills required to be a leader in the past.

DM: As parents yourselves, can you talk about your own kids' reading habits and what you see as the future in book publishing? Do your kids prefer digital over paper, both? What do you prefer as a parent?

GS: Both Evan and I prefer reading iPad books to our kids at night, and they prefer it as well! The reason we prefer it, as parents, is that we can turn off the lights and crawl into bed and read the stories in the dark, which really helps wind the kids down for bedtime.

DM: Tapping, swiping, games, animation. What are your thoughts on a book as a tool for early literacy? Where are the boundaries? When do they become a movie or a game? And does it matter?

GS: There is no doubt that the iPad is an amazing early learning tool (some of the Bob apps are great for early learning). While we are focused on the bedtime reading experience right now, we think there are obvious opportunities to expand into learning apps in the future.

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