First, Made In Me and their MeBooks platform, which has already been used to power apps from Penguin – Ladybird Classics and Peppa Me Books. James Huggins from Made In Me explained that it’s “essentially a kids book-app reader”, allowing children to add their own interactive audio – voice recordings.
“There’s one button in the entire thing,” he said. “When you push that, it reveals where the sound is located, as hotspots, which you can delete and redraw, then tap and hold and record audio… You can completely re-engineer the story, whether you just want to add your own voice or change the story.”
The idea: “sometimes the simplest idea and often-forgotten one, like audio, is very powerful”. Huggins also talked about why MeBooks keeps page turns, because they influence the behaviour of young readers – calm and more relaxed when turning virtual pages, versus a bit more manic in a more interactive app.
Made In Me worked with Penguin on the Ladybird and Peppa apps. The company thought about licensing the technology to publishers so they could create similar collections of their books. But that has now evolved into a central MeBooks app, through which people will be able to buy stories from lots of different publishers.
It’s launching soon with Penguin, Bloomsbury and other publishers, and looks rather marvellous.
Second up, Fiona Barclay from Touch Press, talking about the company’s new Sonnets app. The company is known for apps like The Elements, Solar System and The Waste Land (both with Faber and Faber), Barefoot World Atlas and Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy.
She gave some lessons. What works is “evergreen subjects” – the periodic table, the solar system being good examples. “Non-fiction subjects that have global appeal”. Barclay also talked about the importance of “enlightenment – our apps, we like to think, enlighten people about a subject”. And the company talks about the importance of partnerships: “To make a great app, you have to work with great people.”
That can be traditional publishers like Faber, or the Royal Collection in the case of the Anatomy app. “We’re not guns for hire. You can go out and hire the developer, and they don’t bring the same sort of passion and perhaps understanding of the topic, than it does partnering with somebody.”
Onto Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which comes out later this week (28 June). It’s a successor to The Waste Land, with text, expert notes and readings from actors and celebrities – Barclay showed off David Tennant reading Sonnet 18, showing how the text accompanies the video, along with the notes (supplied by another publisher, Arden).
Social media is very important: the ability to share sonnets on Twitter, or email them to friends. “That’s all part of the marketing. We’ve taken each and every sonnet and made a webpage, and you can view each and every sonnet that you’re going to pay £9.99 for in the app, and you can view it and share it… A lot of the content in the app is freely available.”
The point being that this, rather than cannibalise sales, will actually drive them. “It’s a bit of an experiment,” said Barclay.
Third to present was Barry O’Neill from StoryToys – a company that used to be called Ideal Binary, and has been making apps for children since 2010, with a series of 3D pop-up book-apps based on Grimm’s fairy tales.
Three weeks ago, StoryToys launched Farm 123, a counting book-app for younger children with additional mini-games. The company aimed to complete it in three man-months. It launched on 30 May, and it’s been downloaded about 42,000 times so far – a mixture of free and paid downloads.
“We were pretty disappointed when we launched,” he admitted, saying that StoryToys ramped up its marketing earlier this June, which then stimulated downloads. That said, the biggest impact came from Apple choosing the app as its Editor’s Choice.
“Apple make iPads and they make iPhones… If you have a higher quality app and an app that shows off the capabilities of an iPhone or an iPad in a very good light, you’re more likely to get a positive response from Apple.
40% of the downloads are free, with 2.7% of people converting via in-app purchase. 15% of the company’s users are using the apps for 10-30 minutes per session, while 30% are using it for 3-10 minutes. 27% of users are using the app every day: “We’re pretty happy with those stats, we’d just like a few more people to download it!”
O’Neill also showed off an early build of an upcoming Sleeping Beauty app, which has more game-like elements.
Next up: Dave Addey from Agant, a developer that’s made apps with several book publishers (QI, Malcolm Tucker – The Missing Phone and I, Partridge being examples) and is now working on a comic app based on computing pioneers Lovelace and Babbage: ‘User Experience’, with illustrator Sydney Padua.
“What would happen if the comics medium had been created for iPad rather than for print?” he said – this is the guiding thought behind the new app. So there are big scenes for readers to scroll around, sliders to trigger effects and plot points, and the ability to “play with the canvas”.
So, traditionally comics move from left to right – sometimes readers swipe down, or left, or up. This includes hidden features and joke punchlines – “hidden off-screen for the curious to discover”.
Agant is looking to use the engine behind this for illustrated books and children’s books, not just comics. It’s also building a tool for illustrators to build animated comics themselves. “The idea here is to self-publish a project where we can try out all these different possibilities,” said Addey.
“The right way of doing things, the grammar of doing these things, hasn’t really been defined,” he added. Which is one of the reasons the book-apps space is so exciting at the moment.
Next up: Jon Salt from Random House, talking about a new iPhone app based on TV show The Great British Bake Off, which is coming out soon. The show already has lots of Facebook and Twitter fans, so the app will hopefully tap into this buzz. Random House is working with Agant (see above) on the app.
It’s a cookery app for iPhone, launching with 50 recipes within the app in categories including cakes, biscuits, bread, pastry and puddings. Just like a lot of cookery apps, but there’s a twist. “We thought there was a real opportunity here to link an app with the TV series,” says Salt.
“When the show goes out, one of the features within the show is that each week Paul and Mary set the contestants a technical challenge… Each week as a reward for purchasing our app… at the same time they announce it on the show, you’ll get a notification within the app that a new technical challenge recipe has been unlocked within the app.”
In other words, the app owners will be encouraged to take the same baking challenge as the contestants. The idea being to create buzz around the app, including encouraging people to upload photos of their baking.
Salt noted that Nielsen claims that 25% of UK smartphone owners admit to using their smartphone while watching TV shows, either using social networks, or looking for content related to the show. “That’s something that both publishers and other app producers can really tap into,” he said.
The next presenter was Matt Walton from digital agency The Other Media, talking about the company’s Glide Publisher platform, which has so far spawned a couple of apps. The idea to bring together video, images and text in a way that “gets away from the concept of pages”, while avoiding “interactivity fatigue” among readers.
The platform was used for HarperCollins’ Wonders Of The Universe app earlier this year, based on two hardback books and two and a half hours of video content from the BBC. The navigation is a mixture of gestures and thumbnails, and a 3D universe that fits the space setting.
“Effectively there are two movements in the app: one is left and right to move through chapters and pages, and the second is to glide,” said Walton – downward swipes to move between videos, images and text. An iPhone version is coming soon, and The Other Media has a prototype of Wonders Of The Universe running on Android, too.
The second app that Glide has been used for is an app for the BBC’s Culture Club that aims to “reinvent magazine-type apps”, gliding through digital magazine spreads, and then swiping down to read the text and watch videos. Glide allows a mixture of offline content and streaming videos.
The final presenter was Richard Loncraine from Heuristic Media. It has an app coming out next week: London – A City Through Time, based on a Macmillan book on the English capital.
“This book is really the Bible about London, it’s vast,” he said. Heuristic has used a scrolling timeline as the main navigation method, scrolling through centuries (but also rulers) before digging into 360-degree photographs, amazing old maps and text articles from the original book.
“Some of the data we download, but you only download it once, and then it’s there forever,” he said. Google Maps are also brought in to show the reader’s current location, and how to get to some of the hotspots written about in the book. The map can also be used to browse the content.
Readers can also filter entries: for example showing only entries on science and engineering places that are still surviving. Articles can be browsed by theme in a Life In London section, and there’s a My London part with celebrities including Michael Palin, Jeffrey Archer and Renee Zellweger telling their London tales. But readers can also contribute their own, with everything plotted on the map again.
And there’s more: Blue Badge audio tours, some of which will be free and others sold via in-app purchase. The app is a partnership between Heuristic, the Museum of London, Macmillan and The Illustrated London News archive – a sign of the fertile partnerships that book-apps are sparking in 2012.