Last Friday the 13th was anything but unlucky as far as I was concerned, in fact, I was whooping and hooplah-ing all over Penguin Towers. Spot the Dog, that lovable yellow puppy, (just turned 30 but not looking a day over 4), was the front page star of the iTunes App Store – iPad App of the Week, soon to be the no.1 paid app in Books too.
This was delightful for so many reasons but two critical ones for me; 1) it means that the app is selling and 2) it means it’s good and has been done well – Apple selects those slots carefully, using their own editorial judgement, and we know that they are very demanding about high production values.
And to be honest, we had a hunch that children would like our Spot on the iPad, but who knew that it was correct? We had a book we thought was perfect for the device, the original lift-the-flap in its 30th birthday year; Eric Hill invented lift-the-flap so we had to preserve that digitally and what more intuitive way than with the swipe? We also had a lot of anecdotal evidence that parents gave their phones to their children to entertain and distract them – but was it enough to develop a new type of product?
We decided to test the idea. With children. With all of our digital development we strive to stay true to the brand and enhance rather than interrupt the reading experience whilst pushing the boundaries of storytelling with the experimental use of new technology – could it work? As the Spot Goes to School app project was an iterative (and collaborative) development, we had digital experts working alongside editorial experts, creating versions and phases of the app, which we then put in front of children (at nursery groups and at home), took on the feedback and then tweaked. And tweaked. And tweaked. And videoed the feedback to show others and tweaked again. And then we thought about it a bit more and said ‘not sure it’s good enough – let’s do some more’. So we did, added more Easter egg animations, more audio and carried this on until we, and Eric Hill was delighted with it.
It took longer than we expected (admittedly, we started it in February, before we even had an iPad in the building). A lot of people got involved – the whole publishing process more or less. There were creative conflicts about the way pages turned (resolved by testing) and other differences of opinion. There were moments where I quaked at the thought of telling my boss that we were making another little change… and then another. But I’m glad we did because now we have something we’re all happy with and proud of. And we’ve already released version 1.1.
Digital publishing is similar and yet different to print publishing. It involves a lot of people who you would think speak different professional languages working very closely together, which is so stimulating. It involves an enormous amount of testing and tweaking and the process is never really over as you have to keep refining, updating and improving your product even after launch (perfectionists beware – you WILL be sucked in). It’s intense and hard work but we’re enjoying the creative processes a great deal and so have a lot more apps and creatively different ebooks coming up shortly – viva la digital revolution!
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