A Mobile Renaissance in Reading

Dec 13, 2011

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Despite the tiny screens, more consumers than ever before are using their smartphones to do more than ever before. Market research firm IDC reports that sales of smartphones in the final quarter of 2010 outstripped those of PCs for the first time—ever! Moreover, a milestone report from Google, in collaboration with the Mobile Marketing Association, confirms that we increasingly rely on our mobile devices to research products, make purchases, conduct transactions, and connect with social networks.

Mobile technology has also transformed how we consume content, creating new opportunities for old media. The first wave brought dramatic changes in the production, distribution, and monetization of content such as news, music, games, and video. Fast-forward and advances in mobile applications (apps), tablets, and e-reader devices herald a second wave of change. This time mobile will inject new dynamism into books, book publishing, and reading.
Some content creators—particularly those determined to simply shrink their book content for delivery on a tiny screen—will fail to reap the full benefits of mobile. Others, such as Gina Otto, will benefit immensely. This is because Otto—author of the modern-day fairy tale Cassandra’s Angel—stands out as a content creator who realizes her book, an award-winning children’s story aimed at helping young people find their voices, is a life lesson that mobile can greatly enhance and amplify.

Currently, Otto and her team are developing a mobile strategy, the next component in a cross-media effort to reach and touch millions of youth suffering from low self-esteem and peer pressure. This approach has grown from a published printed book (slated for national release by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.) to include an integrated and holistic web experience called Change My World Now that systematically takes visitors through the steps of how to lend their voice and their time to help children everywhere find self-acceptance. The team also combined this powerful digital presence with real-world experiences, including a 20-city, 20-week national bus tour in the fall of 2011 that spread the key messages of the book, as well as a musical and a mix of innovative products, games, and activities.

Her strategy to harness all media—including mobile—to empower children and parents to engage in dialog gets high marks from Brian Avery, who heads up business development at Tego Interactive. His company, which provides strategy and development services for web and mobile to media and entertainment companies, is sharply focused on how mobile devices can enhance the ebook story-telling experience. As Avery sees it, “The aim for publishers must be to expand beyond the page-turning technologies and platforms that effectively force book content onto a digital display and instead harness the unique characteristics of mobile to deliver children and parents new ways to engage and interact around the content.”

To achieve this, Tego licenses its publishing platform, StoryTeller, equipping publishers with the capabilities needed to publish, package, and promote apps. The platform also tackles the discoverability issue by helping clients to showcase other ebooks. This feature is clearly a plus for independent publishers, allowing them to forge reciprocal publishing networks that ensure all the content of all the members can be found from within the app. However, the real advantage is the platform’s ability to deliver to children and parents a more personal and engaging reading experience.

Publishers have a variety of options and combinations to choose from to suit the storytelling experience. As Brian explains, a publisher of a children’s book may choose animation on each “page” of the ebook that allows children and parents to interact with characters by touching the corresponding image. Publishers can also feature music and display the lyrics at the bottom to encourage readers to sing along. Publishers can also feature music and display the lyrics to encourage children and parents to sing along or integrate the unique sing-back feature that lets readers record their own voices.

The latter feature is proving particularly popular as an innovative and personal way to bridge the digital and physical worlds. For example, parents who might not be home in time to read their child a story now have a chance to be present through the app. At the other end of the spectrum, children are empowered to interact with the story in new ways.

Children’s books are written with an important purpose in mind. Whether the publisher hopes to excite our imagination, touch our hearts, or simply make education fun, mobile must be part of the cross-media mix. Don’t limit your efforts to page-turning tools or technology aimed at creating a “wow” effect. The greatest impact is the one publishers achieve by harnessing mobile to enhance interaction and deliver a personal touch.