Ebook App Creation Demystified: A Case Study

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

This blog post is an excerpt from a case study that is available as a PDF download from Digital Book World. To download the entire case study, click here.

In digital publishing today, storybook app creation is still a niche. Compared to printed books, creating book apps is in its infancy and still chartering the road “less traveled by” to borrow the words of Robert Frost – and at Wasabi Productions, we believe it can and will make “all the difference.”

Clearly, we aren’t the only ones who think so as this nascent industry is teeming with innovative app creation (especially for children). Device adoption is exploding in both homes and schools – this year, International Data Corporation (IDC) said it expects the tablet market to reach “a new high” of 190 million shipped units, with year-on-year growth of 48.7%, while the smartphone market is expected to grow 27.2% to 918.5 million units. Device variety and price points are also diversifying, and their ubiquity and storytelling potential mean that apps won’t be the marginal choice for digital publishing for very long.

But, when a path is (relatively) new and untrodden, it’s intimidating to know what it takes to get to the other side. It’s even intimidating to talk about the craft, as there are no agreed norms and few benchmarks. For this and a myriad of other reasons, it’s not yet fully known what it takes to create a profitable storybook app.

As a result, we have created a case study detailing our experience in creating for this emerging industry, which, if predictions are to be believed, is the trend to watch in 2013 and beyond.

Lazy Larry himself

Lazy Larry himself

This case study explains how Wasabi Productions created its first app, Lazy Larry Lizard, and provides insight into the development of soon-to-bereleased app, Gorilla Band. We share notes on how the storybook apps are produced from start to finish, including costs, production process, people, technology, pricing, release cycle, marketing and more.

While the case study is far to long to publish here (it’s available here as a low-cost download), below is an excerpt about the first and perhaps most important step in storybook app creation: Idea and exploration.

Getting Started: Idea and Exploration

The first step in creating a children’s book is platform agnostic – creation of a story. The author, in our case Graham Nunn, needs creative inspiration and workshops the idea into a script. Once the story is created, the process of making an app diverges from that of other kinds of content creation. Rather than an image of a distanced author developing his idea in isolation, storybook apps are fundamentally collaborative. Early on, Nunn is discussing his idea with the team and providing reference images while building a storyboard rough (draft). The storyboard rough has information on sound effects and interactions page-by-page to accompany the words and it begins visualizing user interface decisions, such as how navigation works (after creating a few apps, we’ve developed a familiar user interface format that our books use, but this is always evolving to ensure it’s optimized for each app).

A timeless, well-written story is critical for all children’s literature but since books on a touch screen device have the added dimension of reader interaction, you need more than just great words. Someone has to decide what those interactions are going to be and when this person is the author, these can be more integral to the narrative–not forced into the scope of a completed story by someone else.

As the writing process touches on how things move and react, involving production partners at the point of idea conception to collaborate on working out the details is a must. This ensures all skillsets are leveraged to work towards the best possible storytelling experience.

How long is the piece of string

Wasabi invests hours and hours in idea generation, refinements and storyboard creation. This IP development and time is not a hard cost to our business, nor included in the costs, which follow. On the other hand, production budget is discussed and clarified early because literally anything is possible – it is just a matter of time and money. String length snapshot: the initial production budget for Wasabi’s first app was $25,000 and apps we’re planning at the moment are closer to two-to-three times this. Read on to see what goes into these numbers and why the economics have changed for us.

You can download the full case study here.

2 thoughts on “Ebook App Creation Demystified: A Case Study

  1. Allison Pomenta

    Jeremy, in your Forbes article citing Amy Friedlander, we read that after an author writes the initial story everything beyond that (developed plot, characters, images, interactivity, etc.) is created by a team. That would be the case of traditional authors. I’d like to remind your readers that there is a new kind of content creator: versed in interactivity, audiovisual media language, and engaging audiences through the playfulness that book apps allow. There was an article in DBW last December regarding this
    ew breed of content creators: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/the-new-breed-of-childrens-book-authors/ that I’d like to remind your readers about. I thought it was very valuable for traditional book publishers and for authors.

    This is my case in particular : for my children’s book app (Axel’s Chain Reaction) being released in Fall 2013, my role was not limited to writing the story: the process of creating the story itself was intertwined with decisions I made about the interactions and games that could be woven into it, and would not only be relevant to the story itself, but would give the reader a sense of participation in the story. This is what quality book apps (vs. book apps that could just be ebooks) should be like.

    I have to be honest in that the whole process of book app creation does involve many roles, and not being able to delegate many of these to employees is what caused the whole process to take me 2 years of full-time work. From my point of view, what makes book app creation more akin to making a movie, or an animated series, or a videogames is the painstaking attention to detail and iteration that goes into it (or should go into it in the case of a quality book app). So, you don’t just finish writing and then pass it on to the illustrator and graphic designer, and then programmers.

    That’s the main difference: getting the maximum app potential out of any story (whether already existingn in print or created as hoc as an app) requires not only a writer, but one who understand the nature of a type of book that combines features drawn from other media. (This where I found having a background in Communications more useful for book app creation, than the typical Literature major).

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