I discovered the Dr. Seuss OmBooks apps earlier this year, while looking for ways my son Leo's iPad could support his emerging reading skills. Leo and I were both blown away by how beautifully Oceanhouse Media's apps retain Dr. Seuss's classic look and feel, while making his beloved stories accessible for readers of all levels. I know I'm not the only one who adores these apps and wants to know more about how they came to be and the people who created them, so I interviewed Oceanhouse Media's delightful Michel Kripalani about his company's conception, achievements, and direction.
What is Oceanhouse Media's story? How did your company get into the app business?
Oceanhouse Media was founded in January 2009, a pivotal time in the app industry. A few months prior, in June 2008, Apple had introduced the App Store, the platform where developers could sell their own apps. After having run two start-ups in the past, I was looking for a new entrepreneurial venture as I had just been laid off from my corporate job of four and a half years. As it turns out, the timing was perfect to start an app publishing company. I recruited a team of software engineers and designers, most of whom I had worked with before, and together we utilized our many years of software experience to get the company off the ground in a relatively short period of time. Two months after we started, we had our first app, Bowls, on the App Store.
Looking back now, it was an exciting yet nerve-racking experience. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the app industry. How could a company possibly survive selling apps at such low prices? How could one compete against 10,000 other apps? During 2009, things were certainly moving fast and we did what we could to build a solid foundation. Then Apple raised the bar and introduced the iPad in April 2010. This helped catapult Oceanhouse Media into the spotlight as we immediately had numerous hit apps on the Books charts. Things have gone very well ever since. Now we even offer apps on other smartphone and tablet devices such as Android and NOOK Color.
As a veteran educational/entertainment software developer, what are some specific ways in which app development differs from your past software production experiences?
The time to market is considerably less. For example, a video game can take years to develop versus an app that can be finalized in just a few months. This has a lot to do with the scale of the projects being much smaller in the app industry. As one would expect, this provides a significant difference in the overall cost of development. Apps have very modest production budgets in comparison to video and computer games.
All of this feeds into one other major advantage for app developers: We have the ability to innovate through iteration. Since Oceanhouse Media is releasing approximately two apps per week, we have the chance to enhance features and learn from user feedback with each new app released.
Oceanhouse Media has 135 omBooks apps (for Apple and Android combined), the first of which was released on December 2009. How on earth have you produced so many omBooks? Do you have a huge staff?
One of the keys to developing a large amount of high quality content is to build great production tools and to continually optimize the production process. Our proprietary book engine (omBook) serves as the backbone for all of our children’s book apps. Although each omBook has its own custom features, for example original narration and background audio, the engine (and supporting tools) allow us to efficiently produce an app in a short amount of time. We’ve invested a lot in our tools. We have a staff of seven fantastic full-time employees, plus we work with several contractors -- technical artists, professional voice actors, sound designers, music composers and graphic designers. We love what we do and I believe it shows in our apps.
You're probably best known for your interactive Dr. Seuss omBooks, which my kids adore. How did you manage to make that series happen?
As a UCSD alum, I served on the board of the UCSD Geisel Library (named in honor of Ted Geisel, a.k.a Dr. Seuss). I was able to secure an introduction to Dr. Seuss Enterprises through the head librarian. I went into my presentation with DSE holding a sample of what I knew a Dr. Seuss book app should look like on an iPhone. It was a full working prototype. They were intrigued and allowed us to develop a number of Grinch-themed apps, including our first omBook, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! We later secured the rights to bring all 44 classic Dr. Seuss books to the app market. We currently have 24 of them available as omBooks and plan to develop the rest over the next few years.
You also produce titles from other authors, many of whom are less well known than Dr. Seuss. What factors influence your decision to turn a book into an omBook? Should hopeful authors contact you?
Our business model is focused on securing licensing agreements primarily for well-known series and popular authors. We typically will not sign one-off or small scale deals. For some series that do not have the name recognition of say Dr. Seuss or The Berenstain Bears, we look for books that feature both illustrations and content that would effectively translate into a digital format. Not all children’s books can be enhanced by them being turned into apps. We look for the ones that would shine.
When looking for our next licensor, we try to find content that is in line with our company’s mantra of creating apps that uplift, educate, and inspire. We have an in-house review policy and regularly research potential licensors. We’re always open to inquiries from authors, agents, and publishing houses. Those that are interested in reaching us about their particular series can email us at email@example.com.
Oceanhouse seems to take care to keep up with the Android as well as the iDevice/App store markets. Has this strategy been rewarding, so far? Do you see the two markets balancing out, eventually?
Yes, we have found our Android apps have been very well received by consumers. There is an increasing demand for quality apps on this platform. We feel honored that Google has selected Oceanhouse Media as one of its Top Developers.
The biggest challenge on Android has been on the development side. The number of manufacturers, versions of OSs and variety of devices has made Android more complex and costly than iOS. The Android market is quickly catching up to Apple as a significant player in the app industry.
What are some specific directions you'd like to see Oceanhouse Media go in the future, in terms of app development? Any new, different, exciting possibilities that you're able to share?
Although I can’t comment on specific releases, I can tell you that we are looking to bring exciting educational titles with deeper content to the app market soon. Look for an announcement of an entirely new series within the next four to six weeks. Currently, our Smithsonian series includes omBooks on dinosaurs and penguins that both entertain and educate young readers. With the right level of interactivity, book apps can be a wonderful learning experience for children. The new school year is upon us and it’s encouraging to see more tablets being used in the classroom for learning activities.
It’s amazing to think that just two and a half years ago we started Oceanhouse Media and that our first omBook is less than two years old. We have new series coming up and many ideas on how to push technology to make our omBooks more engaging for children. We’re also exploring other app categories where we can extend on what has worked well for us in our book apps. Stay tuned to see what’s next!
More on Oceanhouse Media and their apps from around the Blogosphere:
- The iPhone Mom: Interview With Oceanhouse Media
- CoolMomTech: Dr. Seuss Takes Over the App Market. How Very 2011.
- Parenting.com: One App, Two App, Lots of Dr. Seuss Apps
Shannon Des Roches Rosa's family currently owns most of the Dr. Seuss apps -- though they have held off on a select few to download in emergencies, as they recently did with Oh the Thinks You Can Think! when a grocery store outing with Leo starting going south (yes, the distraction worked). She writes about iPads and apps and autism and parenting and oh, a lot more at ThinkingAutismGuide.com, BlogHer.com, and Squidalicious.com.
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