Creating Apps: What Nosy Crow Knows

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Nosy Crow makes interactive, multimedia children’s apps. And, this innovative company in the London borough of Southwark is quickly becoming known for excellence in the digital publishing community.

In fact the company was awarded a Publishing Innovation Award for Best Juvenile App in 2012 and was a finalist in that same category this year.

The 2014 Digital Book Awards (formerly known as the Publishing Innovation Awards) are open for nominations. And DBW is nosing around to see what goes into the making of an innovative app.

Kate-Wilson-Nosy-CrowKate Wilson, managing director at Nosy Crow, spoke with me by email about the company and its successful digital creations.

DU: How many people work for Nosy Crow? How many are designing, developing and producing ebooks and apps?

KW: Well, some of us work part time, but the full time equivalent number would be 16. I suppose about a quarter of our time is spent on ebooks and apps.

DU: Is there a Nosy Crow ebook or app you’re particularly proud of in terms of digital innovation?

LRRHKW: I am proud of all of our apps, but if I had to choose just one, it would be Little Red Riding Hood.

DU: Why?

KW: Our app version of Little Red Riding Hood plays with the story, and the app is a sort of fully-animated, multimedia choose your own adventure. The choice of paths that the reader makes for Little Red Riding Hood, and the embedded games and activities in which the reader takes part in along the way impact on the end of the story. It’s a reading experience, but not a book.

DU: What’s behind Nosy Crow’s success?

KW: We set out to make the most engaging digital reading experiences for children that we possibly can, and we haven’t compromised on that aim. We have not shied away from making new kinds of reading experiences for children, creating things that are “native” to touchscreen devices from the outset, rather than adapting pre-existing print titles.

DU: What distinguishes your workflow, design, development, etc.?

KW: We do a lot of our work in-house, including almost all of our animation and all of our coding. We even do a lot of our own illustration and writing.

DU: Briefly outline the Nosy Crow workflow from story to app?

KW: We storyboard, we write (or edit), we illustrate, we animate, we create the audio (voice, original music and sound effects) and we code. But some of those things are simultaneous rather than sequential and, because we are really perfectionist, we revise and improve as we go along.

DU: Is children’s content particularly well suited for a digital, interactive reading experience? Why?

KW: I think adult fiction is pretty well suited for a digital reading experience, and making fiction ebooks is certainly easier and requires skills closer to those we already had as print book editors! But I think that it is possible to make really engaging experiences for children. I wrote about this in December 2010, and haven’t much changed my mind since that blog post. Picture books are already “multimedia” – they blend text and illustrations, and introducing audio and interactivity feels like a more comfortable extension in the case of reading experiences for children than it does for, say, adult fiction.

DU: Anecdotally, some industry folks have observed that distinctive digital innovations are coming from the UK, in particular. Any thoughts on that?

KW: Interesting. I don’t really think about our geography that much, honestly. We sell the apps throughout the world (we have partnerships with publishers to sell them in other languages too), but, yes, companies like TouchPress and MeBooks and Nosy Crow are all based in the UK. On the other hand, Ocean Media and Source Books, whose Put Me In The Story innovation is interesting, aren’t. None of them is a corporate giant, though, and perhaps age or scale or independence, rather than location, is important here. It can be hard to experiment and innovate in a large-scale publishing company wherever it is: overheads are high, and you have to keep feeding the existing machine.

Related: Sourcebooks Brings Personalized Storytelling to Berenstain Bears

DU: Who else is doing notable work?

KW: I think I’ve mentioned some of the companies I admire above, but a lot of our inspiration comes from developers who aren’t publishers: Toca Boca’s pretty amazing, for example.

DU: What can other publishers learn from the innovations in children’s digital publishing that Nosy Crow is making?

KW: An app is different from an ebook. We make both. There’s room for both. But don’t think that an ebook with bells and whistles will be a satisfying app. In my experience, it seldom is.

The Digital Book Awards celebrate innovation in apps and ebook publishing. Submit your nominations today!

One thought on “Creating Apps: What Nosy Crow Knows

  1. Anne Kostick

    My favorite Nosy Crow book is “Cinderella!” In almost every case, their books deliver way more play value and story extension than the average. Hearing from Kate Wilson about how she makes this happen is inspiring.



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