Apps Based on Children's Books Prove Fertile Marketplace
For Oceanhouse Media (OM), a publisher of apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, licensing relationships with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Hay House Publishers and Chronicle Books have helped it to become a player in the children's book space. With the company's recent announcement that the children's classic “ Green Eggs and Ham” was now available for purchase at the App Store, Oceanhouse Media reached a milestone: 100 apps published. After just one week of release, the “Green Eggs and Ham” e-book app achieved its own milestone—it reached the No. 1 position on the App Store book charts for both the iPad and the iPhone. Not bad for a company that's only been around for a little over a year-and-a-half.
Michel Kripalani, founder and president of Oceanhouse Media, offered his thoughts to Book Business Extra on the opportunities that mobile apps provide book publishers, as well as why children's books will be keeping his company busy.
Book Business Extra: How do the partnerships you've created with publishers work? Do you buy the rights to the books? Do the publishers get a piece of the apps that sell?
Michel Kripalani: All of our deals are revenue-share based. OM licenses the source content, adapts it to iPhone/iPad, publishes [it] and then pays royalties (i.e., license fees). OM absorbs 100 percent of the production costs and is responsible for all aspects of publishing, including PR, marketing, software updates, customer support, etc. Each of our apps will generally receive three to four updates per year. When Apple releases new hardware, the updates can be substantial, such as the recent iPad and iPhone 4 updates.
Extra: What are the capabilities of the apps that Oceanhouse Media creates?
Kripalani: … For each Dr. Seuss e-book, we hire professional actors, record custom narration, compose a new music soundtrack, develop unique sound effects, add interactivity, perform page layout for each device and package the entire app using our proprietary children's book engine. We effectively create a new derivative copyright product. The final result is a unique, interactive software experience that extends well beyond the original book.
We also have an entire line of Dr. Seuss apps that are purely entertainment based. These apps compliment our e-books. We have games, camera-based activities and even a greeting card app. The games are surprisingly complex. They're solid sellers within the kids games category, with most holding positions in the Top 200.
For many of the Hay House products, we've developed unique custom engines to suit the content. For example, one series of products is similar to tarot cards. The proper way to deliver these "oracle cards" was to bring them to life with interactivity. So, we did just that. We developed a custom 3-D engine to display the cards in a playful manner. Users have been given the ability to draw cards in a wide variety of combinations or "spreads." These spreads can be saved or emailed to friends. The functionality goes way beyond just viewing a simple deck of cards.
Extra: What challenges exist for book publishers who are thinking of delving into the apps market? What advice can you give them to overcome these challenges?
Kripalani: First and foremost, apps are software. Even though Oceanhouse Media is the publisher of Dr. Seuss on the iPhone/iPad, we view ourselves more as a software company than a book publisher. The tools, technologies and skill sets required to build apps come from the computer space much more than the publishing space. …
In terms of advice, I'd recommend publishers find high-quality developers and recognize the value they bring to the table. If they try to outsource the work to someone that will do the adaptation for a flat fee or a nominal percentage of back-end revenue, they'll likely get what they've paid for in terms of product quality. …
Extra: Do you believe certain book categories translate better to apps? If so, what are they and why?
Kripalani: Yes, I do. Any book that's heavily illustration-based or craving interactivity should be adapted as an app rather than an ePub format file. This is why children's books do so well as apps. They're full of illustrations and interactivity that keep children engaged to learn. ePub is a solid way to adapt chapter books or anything that's extremely text-based. However, ePub doesn't properly support children's books given all of the unique programming and features that go into each title.
I believe textbooks and cookbooks also make better apps than ePub formatted files. We expect that schools will make extensive use of iPads in the future. Much of this content will be driven by apps rather than simple ePub files.
Extra: How successful have the Oceanhouse Media apps been?
Kripalani: We're a privately held company, so we don't discuss revenue. That said, our latest press release indicated that we've sold over 300,000 Dr. Seuss apps in just over seven months.
Extra: How do you see this market moving forward?
Kripalani: I believe that fantastic opportunities exist for both book publishers and app developers. I expect to hear about interesting synergistic relationships between people that have content and people that can help to bring that content to life on iPhones and iPads. The children's educational space is really going to boom on the iPad.
We're seeing tremendous growth opportunities overall. The iPad is selling at an incredible rate. Apple has released a truly magnificent product. Without a doubt, it will have a major impact on the way that content is delivered—now and in the future.
Joe Keenan is the executive editor of Total Retail. Joe has more than 10 years experience covering the retail industry, and enjoys profiling innovative companies and people in the space.