Friday, February 25, 2011

Launching an App...

There is a sense of something dangerous, new and exciting about launching an app.  From the outside looking in, you might say, "Big deal".  Trust me - it is.

If you were me, you'd find that months of your life and a lot of your money all hinge on how well you executed your ambitions and fulfilled your dreams.  You have made concessions to accommodate reality, but you still feel like you have reached the highest point you can reach given all you have learned. You'd think, "This is it. This is what people will like."  And you'd pray to God you are right.  In the end, there are only a handful of times you put it all on the line.  I have gotten a look of disbelief from people who have heard that my partner Tod and I have self-funded this ambitious project.  People sometimes give us this kind of Are you crazy? look. I wonder if those people ever believed in their own visions enough to risk as much themselves. I hope they have. You see, you don't have to live your life on crutches.  We are each our own people. The limitations we place on ourselves are fears with an excuse. I want to try walking on water to see if I can,  to swim with sharks to see if they bite, and to dream a dream to see if it's real.

At the end of my life my family will be the only thing of importance to me. I'm making this app for my daughter, Alairyn. I hope she likes what her dad made.  I hope your kids will, too.

This is Joe Spadaford signing out.  Till next time, Space Cadets.

 Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Money For Nothin’ and Your Apps For Free…

I was talking to a friend of mine about a reasonable price to sell my app for.  I was doing it strategically, basing our price on what the market would bare.  What do our competitors’ apps price for, and what exactly do we at Brain Freeze offer?  We’ve finally honed our research down to a price that seems right. So, after having done all the typical calculations that any businessman would do ~ figuring out my break-even point & hoping for a profit ~  my friend asks me, "Why should I buy your app when I can get all the apps for free on the Droid?”  OK ~ major road block…

First of all: NOT all apps are free on any mobile device.  If they are free at the start, the creators are going to find a way to create a revenue stream, either through in-app ads or in-app purchases.  Some of the really high selling apps (mostly games) will start out free, but eventually they will want to upsell you into a paid version.  This may work for the gaming apps, but when it comes to books, the model just doesn't hold up.  I invest thousands of dollars and countless hours of my time and effort to make my customers a high quality app for their children. So, I really don’t think is too much to ask to put a price tag on it.

That being said, there are people out there who price their apps far too high for the content given.  For instance, a lot of history apps price-out high at the start, based on the expectation that teachers will "pay through the nose" to educate their students in a new and engaging way.  I know that because I’ve bought a few of those and I know others (teachers) who have, too.  However, it turned out that the educational content we paid $9.99 for, was, in the end, equivalent to about one chapter of a book. Sadly, this is other end of the spectrum, where some apps are overpriced, and you have no way of knowing that until you've made the purchase.

Next, my friend poses this question, “Shouldn’t all apps just be free?” Well, in a perfect world, I would gladly give all my stuff away for free.  In that world, I could go to a store and buy groceries paying only with a smile.  My daughter could afford college simply on a hope, and I could pay my mortgage by wishing on a star.  I do wish we lived in that world, but this is capitalism.  Just look at the price of gasoline, or the money we’ll pay to see one film in a theater on date night.  I know the value of a buck.  People ought to get their money’s worth at all times, but why do so many people still think things should just be free?  If you want quality entertainment, you’re going to have to pay for it.

As a remedy, I think that our ‘Lite’ version of the app is a very good option. It’s the perfect way to try before you buy. And in the app world, I think a lot of folks agree that you ought to be able to taste the food before you know if you want it.  Many a time, I wish I had the opportunity to do that before I carved into a $25.00 steak.

The mentality that I am trying to emphasize is this: if a parent will hand-over $16.99 for a hardcover version of a Dr. Seuss book, then what’s the issue with paying $4.99 for a fully interactive children’s book? A book that teaches your child reading while you are in the other room cooking dinner for them, doing the laundry, or checking your email. To me, at this price the app is a steal.  For a few bucks, you’re getting A LOT of content in return.  I have to say that the only thing missing is the new book smell.  I’d put a money value on that; how does 10-12 dollars less sound?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Here's The First Look at Goosed Up Rhymes Folks!

Goosed Up Rhymes Goes To New York City

It’s official- Brain Freeze is heading off to the Toy Fair in New York City!
What is Toy Fair, you ask? Well, the definition they give is this:

“Toy Fair is the largest international toy trade show in the Western Hemisphere where the newest and hottest products in the children's entertainment marketplace are exhibited. It is the premier meeting place for manufacturers, retailers, importers, licensors and reps from around the world.”

  But what I prefer to think of it as is the gathering place of grown-up daydreamers discussing their visions for the future of our children’s playtime. The unique thing about this year’s Toy Fair is that the iPad/iPhone apps will now be represented for the first time.

  Why are apps now being represented at a toy fair? Well, given that last year at Christmas, thousands of parents were buying iPads primarily for their children, it immediately made sense that the iPad should now also be considered a ‘toy’ in the market. This is not, of course, a slight by any means to Apple. Indeed, it is actually a compliment. No other product out there can be utilized by businessmen, high-schoolers, gamers, and children alike, as a means of amusement and time-killing fun.

  In closing, our hope in this venture is to be able to meet up with as many fellow app developers as we can, and give them a glimpse into the new age of children’s apps we hope to be a part of.  If we happen to see you there, you’ll get a shot at being one of the first to play around with our Goosed-Up Rhymes app. For those of you who won’t be able to make it, there will be a teaser trailer posted up shortly for a sneak preview of what this interactive app offers.

  So, everyone please wish us luck. We hope to make some new friends there at the NY Toy Fair! Happy Toy-Fairing!! 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Marketing Lessons I've Learned From Big Idea

Back in 2001, I started at this wonderful company called Big Idea. I spent my time creating Veggie Tales stories for your kids.  It was, believe it or not, a pretty tough job.  With demanding schedules, many fellow artists to try to keep up with, and the pressure of making something that millions of people would see, it was a scary start for a 23 year old.  But my years there were a blessing, and I loved every second of it.  

I walked away about ten years later having learned a few things about pleasing an audience, such as don't expect them to be overjoyed with everything you do. We put out some shows that I personally thought were the best-of-the-best, but only received a luke-warm reception from our audience.  That left those of us in the development side of things a little stunned. On the flip side, we would put out a show the development team only felt luke-warm about; and in contrast, the audience loved the show and wanted more of the same! 
Why was that?  I now think that having a show full of fun, simple humor was a must for a positive reception with our niche audience.  Speaking of our target audience - I was shocked when I found out from the marketing team that our audience was somewhere between 3 and 6 years old.  There were so many jokes written for the shows that we, as adults, thought were quite funny, but many of those jokes must have gone far over the heads of those 3 to 6 year olds. It was a tough balancing act to catering to the kids, while still making sure the parents enjoyed some good laughs, too.

Another lesson I learned at Big Idea was to avoid paying too much attention to what the media was saying about our shows.  Many years ago there was a bit of a scandal about NBC making the "Veggie" shows more mainstream and removing some of the Christian content. NBC required that we make some minor changes to our shows in hopes that it would reach more of their audience. Many fans were confused and alarmed at this news- why had we gone from God to Sponge Bob??  The edits we had to make were fairly insignificant. And there remained a strong sense of 'God's presence' palpable with our show.  Another show that aired on NBC called "3,2,1 Penguins", actually depicted our characters praying to God - on public TV!  I thought that was pretty ground-breaking for our little show. Unfortunately, the message that got out was not that we had remained true to our core principles, but that we had sold out to appease the network.  People obviously didn't do the research, and many just assumed we had lost touch with our audience.  The results were damaging.  

I'm learning that the app arena is really no different.  The same rules apply: 1) have a mission and, 2) get to know your audience. Try to please them as best you can, while realizing  you can never please them all.  Goosed Up Rhymes will come out and many people will love it, and I mean LOVE IT, but some people will find little things that make it a problem for them. I can already hear a parent telling me it wasn't "educational" enough for their child; clearly, they would be overlooking all of the educational aspects we are putting into our app, such as 'touch-based' reading, and other things kids seem to find intuitive.    

I've been warned to 'not sweat the occasional one-star rating' from a disgruntled customer.  You can't make everybody happy. Unless, of course, there are a LOT of those one-stars; then you might really want to look into that. Good luck to all my fellow app developers out there!

PS.  Big Idea has book apps out there.... check them out! 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

To Humor or To Educate..? That Is The Question.

I watch The Daily Show, CNN and Fox News.  It's all a form of news to me.  And, in a way, all a form of theater. I would humbly argue that one is not better than the other.  The news industry has become a multi-media experience, giving all of us the ability to see, hear, smell and feel the news as it unfolds before us, causing us to engage with the story on a more personal level. It's a whole new way to get the news - one that reminds us of our commonality - the human experience.

When we think of education, can we agree that laughter can and should go hand-in-hand with the traditional teaching methods?  Why must anyone view education as more important than enjoyment?  Is it because many of us have to do jobs that we don't like in order to earn our weekend fun? Is this our life view?  There is work and then there is fun. Period.

I, for one, sit here in my office working and (God bless my wife) I don't get much of a weekend. But, we still manage to enjoy our days and weeks together.  How?  Love, work and even learning are all affected by your state of mind.  If we find ways to make the drudgery of life enjoyable, by having a positive outlook, then we can get through even the most mundane or difficult of tasks more easily.  Not only can we get through them, we can enjoy them, and we can even remember them fondly afterwards.

We all had that one teacher in school we remember as being our favorite: the 'great' teacher. Maybe, he or she did something to make us laugh while we learned. Maybe, they spoke with such conviction that it made an indelible impression upon us. Maybe, what we liked most about them was that they simply seemed to care about our needs and desires as individuals.  They just let us be kids for a moment or two, even if it was college and we were twenty-one.

I took a children's book writing course after I graduated college.  In that class, the teacher showed us various children's books.  They ranged from the very silly to the very serious...but no argument was made to convince us that one style or approach was more effective than another.  Winnie the Pooh remains a classic of children's literature without having a serious word in it.

For example, I would go so far as to say that Mark Twain would never compare his work to Shakespeare. In his mind, his work simply represented his humorously ironic outlook on life.  His most beloved and serious work goes largely ignored by the public; it was a book about Joan of Arc.  We love to be entertained, not necessarily lectured to.  Now, if we can find a way to educate in an entertaining way, we may have discovered the perfect pairing.  Like peanut butter and jelly, or banana peels and pratfalls.  Some things just work better when they are put together.

I personally choose to make books that endorse a comical outlook on life.  I want to make kids laugh, because I know the world will inevitably throw them some tears. I believe that there is a educational value in knowing you can curl up with a good book and find solace from the world and its many complications and evils.  I want to create a place where children can just be themselves, and be silly. I hope parents will come along with me in teaching the value of laughter to their children.  As I prepare to release Goosed Up Rhymes, I hope it will create great memories for you all, no matter your age.

Thanks for your time.