I absolutely love my iPad. My two-year old loves it more, thanks to some of the interactive storybook apps we’ve installed on it. So I decided to speak with some of the pioneers in this new realm of book publishing to find out how and why they jumped into what could be the future of books.
I spoke with Nick Bonomo, co-founder of Siena Entertainment, and his head of business development, Keith Lewis. In October of 2009, Nick and his business partner, Justin James, launched their StoryChimes line of storybook apps for the iPhone, iPodTouch, and iPad.
The idea for this product line came to them during a dinner conversation in late June 2009, when Nick’s mom wanted to find a new way to promote the children’s book she’d recently published. Nick suddenly thought of the comic-book reader app he had on his phone and the rest was history.
“I’m going to take your book,” Nick told his mother. “I’m going make interactive, shrink it down for the iPhone, and we’re going to charge a buck for it.”
His mom’s response: “What’s an iPhone?”
Nick called his partner Justin, who said, “That’s a really cool idea. How are we going to do that?”
A week and half later, they had a beta. At the time, they had a couple of big competitors, but they were confident that they could create a better product. Rather than using straight narration, they thought a storybook app should be more like a performance, so they inserted different character voices, sound effects, music, and other features into the experience. It didn’t take long for them to realize that what they were doing was more than just one book. They were going to make a business out of it.
Their inspiration for the name StoryChimes came from the read-along books they had as kids, the ones that came with a record and used a chime to indicate when it was time to turn the page. I can still remember my own Empire Strikes Back record book, which preceded the days when you could pop a favorite movie into the DVD player. I memorized every word.
In order to launch with more than one book on their list, they tapped into the public domain and adapted a number of stories to their format.
“It became very exciting,” says Nick. “To really create an interactive reading experience that is different from an actual book yet retains that tactile feel because you can turn the pages virtually.”
Nick, Keith, and Justin are all fathers. “It all became about literacy and how we can encourage our own kids to read. It became important on a whole other level as a parent to provide an alternative form of entertainment that’s more educational.”
Of his two co-workers, Keith says: “These guys are creative. Nick understands content and how to really make it jump out. And Jay [Justin] is a fantastic graphic artist and has a great eye for that. We think that’s what differentiates StoryChimes from other markets out there.”
The Book App Business Model
The first question that popped into my head when I visited their website was how do they make a profit by selling books at just 99 cents each? Their answer: Selling apps is all about volume, about lowering the barrier for entry into the marketplace.
They also believe that because they’re a relatively unknown publisher, the 99 cent threshold is crucial for encouraging readers to make the purchase. They’re also integrating some interactive games and supporting apps to their books to increase their value, while also taking care to limit the distractions and keep the focus on reading.
Though StoryChimes are currently only available through iTunes, they say they’re about two-and-a-half months away from launching on Android.
With just the three of them on staff, they heavily depend on freelance help for their production process. “We’re positioned in what we call the ‘new economy.’ We freelance most of our work – for now. At some point, we’ll bring some people in-house, but right now it’s about networking and finding good people who to want do the work on a work-for-hire or freelance basis.”
Nick says that they currently have a network of seven or eight freelance illustrators who add a diverse look to their book line, but StoryChimes has been “slow to expand that circle because if we get someone we like, we want to use them again.”
As their brand has grown over the past few months, authors from around the world have contacted them about submissions. Unlike some of the other book app developers I’ve encountered in my research, StoryChimes doesn’t charge authors an upfront fee to produce a book. They’re also working with a number of independent publishers to convert some of their titles to this new format.
I firmly believe that iPad/iPhone book app developers like StoryChimes will play a big part in the future of publishing. Though many in the publishing industry are wringing their hands, I think it’s an extremely exciting time.
Have you introduced your iPhone or iPad to your child? What are some of their favorite book apps?