Interview with Anna Belle Abraham, PlayTales
For podcast release February 13, 2012
KENNEALLY: The world’s first generation of tablet-using children is toddling towards daycare, preschool, and kindergarten with their e-readers tucked into their backpacks. Those kids and their e-book usage habits may have a great deal to tell a generation of publishers who always thought an apple was something you brought to school for the teacher.
Hello, and welcome to Beyond the Book, Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series on publishing trends and innovations in media technology. My name is Christopher Kenneally. And in February 2012, New York is hosting the KidScreen Summit, the world’s leading conference on the business of kids’ entertainment, attracting nearly 1600 attendees from around the world. Joining us from the show is Anna Belle Abraham, US manager of multilingual and multicultural marketing and communications for Genera Interactive, a Spain-based company whose brand PlayTales is a leading multi-platform interactive bookstore for kids. And welcome to Beyond the Book, Anna Belle.
ABRAHAM: Hi, Chris. Nice to meet you, thank you.
KENNEALLY: Well, we appreciate you taking the time from the show. You’re joining us there from a screening room, and I guess there’s a lot of attention being drawn to the interactive media marketplace as a whole, and in its – what’s going to be absorbing the attention of children of the Gen Xers in coming months. So give us an idea. What are we seeing there at KidScreen that we can expect to see on our screen soon?
ABRAHAM: Well, there’s a lot going on here. You would be fascinated by everything that’s happening. There’s a lot of people that are really focusing on the fusion of television with tablet with device with 3D. There’s a lot of technological advances that are happening in different areas, and now we’re seeing them fused together to produce one super-ideal product for children. So it’s pretty exciting.
KENNEALLY: Yeah, and what’s been interesting about the way – the direction media has gone is what I understand, at least, the influence of the gaming culture and gaming publishing on so many other aspects of media. So can you tell us about that? Is what goes on in the gaming world kind of moving into the book world, the publishing world much more?
ABRAHAM: Absolutely. I wouldn’t doubt it for a second. If you look at the trends that have happened over the years with games and with publishing, you’ve seen them going in two very different directions until recently. Children have been raised with Nintendo DSs in their hands, and playing games constantly, since the moment they’re practically born, and books have been put aside until recently, with the tablet industry booming.
So now kids are suddenly being introduced to books in a very different format, in a format that they feel a bit more connected to. So the element of digital gaming, combined with publishing, definitely goes in the favor of publishing, but also doesn’t leave behind in any way the gaming industry. So it’s definitely hand-in-hand now.
KENNEALLY: Right, and what’s interesting is that these are children – as they say – sort of the children of Gen Xers, I guess, they are, who are going to know of a book only as a book that they read – or otherwise consume, as they say – on a tablet space. And that’s going to have profound impact, I think, on publishing. At the KidScreen summit, PlayTales has announced a new name and a rebranding effort. Why don’t you tell us about that?
ABRAHAM: Well, it’s pretty exciting. Yes, we’ve rebranded it, and PlayTales is now – it’s a bigger, better option for parents. We’ve included the gaming element, as we were talking about before, where kids can read a book. Kids between zero and eight can read a book, but they can also play games within that book. They can do matching activities, or coloring, or find the word, word search, or there’s a bunch of different options.
But PlayTales, for us, is the place for parents to go to when they’re looking for an interactive book for their children. They have the option of going onto the Google and searching interactive books for kids ages six, and they’ll find all these different options. And it’s this sea of chaos, and it’s hard to find exactly what they’re looking for. And we truly believe that PlayTales is the place for them to go, where they can find hundreds of books in seven different languages for their children that are wholesome reads, that are exciting and fun and interactive, and really translate to that Gen X generation, that they can really relate to it.
KENNEALLY: Right, and you mentioned that the multilingual piece of it, the multinational, the multicultural piece – tell us about where in this bookstore app that you have it plays out. You’re here in the US of course, and I understand there’s something like a million plus books available, but you’re in many other countries, and you’ve got an interesting partnership with UNICEF.
ABRAHAM: Yeah, we love working with UNICEF. We did our first book with them last year, Momotaro, for the Japanese relief, the relief for Japanese children after the terrible tragedy that happened there, and it went very well. And they’re releasing a book with us called Food for a Day, and it’s based around a campaign that they’re doing to provide food for children for not one day, but 1000 days. And it’s a beautiful story for small children, and it’s actually narrated in Spanish and English by Pau Gasol, the superstar from the Lakers. So he’s been involved in that, which hopefully will give it sort of a good push and encourage people to participate and help donate their money to that cause, which is absolutely beautiful, and ties right in with our mission, which is to help children, in the end, and inspire them.
KENNEALLY: Right, well, it’s that kind of subject matter that really puts PlayTales above many others. I mean it’s not just distraction for distraction’s sake, but you’re trying to lead children – and I suppose their parents as well – to a better understanding of the world.
ABRAHAM: Yeah, exactly. The book talks about how a child who’s born in a Western culture and a child who’s born in sort of an underdeveloped culture, how different their lives can be, and how sometimes they can be completely unaware of each other in these parallel universes. And it tells that message in a simple way, but yet a clear, gentle way, so that children can understand that and be inspired to help out. It’s a very beautiful story.
KENNEALLY: To that point about cultural differences, I mean, Americans are beginning to see many more e-readers than ever, of course, and expect to see more in the future. Are there differences in the ways that people in other countries are taking to the whole e-book platform?
ABRAHAM: That’s a really good question, Christopher. We sell our books all over the world, and it’s true that the primary market is the US market, and namely the English language. But we see more and more countries, mainly European countries, catching on to the idea. The US is definitely the front runner when it comes to incorporating technology into our homes and lives, but Europe is definitely catching up, as well as China and Japan. But we can see a clear difference, absolutely.
KENNEALLY: Right, and the other piece of the cultural question that’s interesting to me is the whole notion of the bookselling culture. So one way you’ve addressed it is to give this app as a place where parents can go, a single place to find books of interest for their children. But there are some other things that PlayTales is trying to do to address some of the dilemmas of the e-book selling marketplace. And so, for example, you offer free download demos and an opportunity for parents to look on a bookshelf, as it were, and see what’s popular. Tell us about that, and what are you trying to address there?
ABRAHAM: Well, we’re trying to address parents’ needs and wants. We’ve been, since the very beginning, very involved with speaking with users and parents on sort of an anonymous level, but yet a very personal level, of what they’re looking for and what they want. So one of the things that we addressed was, how do they choose a book, once they’re in the store and they see all these books. How do they choose a book? So what we’ve done to remedy that was, we’ve given them samples, the idea of, OK, you can download a sample of the book and have a look at it, just be a couple of pages, but enough to give you an idea of whether or not you like that book or not. And that’s totally free of charge.
And we’ve also incorporated sort of a social – an indirect social sharing idea, where people can rate the stories, and then those stories you can see what kind of a star rating they have, whether it’s a five-star, four-star, three-star. And so, based on what that rating is, they can sort of see what other people think about that story.
And the third way that we’ve remedied that was, we also make it visible how many reads the story has had; how many times the story has actually been opened and read by other people who are using the program. So those seem to be three extremely effective ways. We haven’t had any more complaints from parents saying, we don’t know which book to buy.
Oh, sorry, there was a fourth thing. We also make it very clearly visible what age group the book is for, whether it’s for a two-year-old, whether it’s for a four-year-old, whether it’s for an eight-and-above child. So I think that’s made it a lot easier for parents, and also for children to look and see if this is a book that they’d like to have and read.
KENNEALLY: Right, well, we are talking today on Beyond the Book with Anna Belle Abraham of PlayTales, and she’s attending the KidScreen Summit, a conference on the business of kid’s entertainment in New York City this month. And, you know, Anna Belle, it strikes me that there’s something for publishers, whether they publish children’s books or not. Is there an example of a way that children’s books, you think, may anticipate or otherwise influence what’s to come in the adult marketplace?
ABRAHAM: Well, that’s an interesting question. Usually I look at it from the other direction, seeing how the adult market will affect the children’s market. But because the children’s market is becoming so interactive and so involved, I really don’t know. It’s hard to say. Adults take in information in such a different way than children. We don’t need as much visual stimulation to engage us when we’re reading, in general. Everybody’s different, but – I don’t know. That’s a really interesting question. I usually look at it from the top down, but that question’s definitely from the other end.
KENNEALLY: Well, even from the consumer standpoint, it seems to me, Anna Belle, that if parents get the tablet or the e-reader for their children, they may think of it just as for the kids, but my guess is they might become converts down the road.
ABRAHAM: Yeah. I absolutely think so. I think that the tablets are good for children, in the sense that they can be extremely good fountains of information and learning for them. But for parents, tablets and e-readers are practical, they’re smart, they’re everything that I think adults are looking for to make their life a bit easier and more organized. So it’s – for me, tablets are for the entire family. They’re for young, old, somebody who might be familiar with it or less familiar with technology. They’re a really wonderful device to have in your everyday life.
KENNEALLY: Right, and the element that’s important to PlayTales and to children’s e-books anyhow is this interactive notion. Is there a particular favorite of yours in the interactive field, some element that just delights and surprises you?
ABRAHAM: Well, as in a feature, you mean?
KENNEALLY: That’s right, yeah.
ABRAHAM: Yeah, my favorite feature is probably the drag-and-drop feature, where kids use their fingers or some kind of stylus to take an image and put it in a different place on the screen. But what’s fascinating about that feature for me is how quickly children will catch on to it. If they do it once, they think they can always do it, which is really interesting.
KENNEALLY: And so even when they can’t they’re sort of wondering what’s wrong with this tablet if they can’t do it. Yeah, that’s terrific.
ABRAHAM: Exactly. Exactly. It’s absolutely fascinating, especially a two-year-old who may have been on one application that does it, and then later go to another book that doesn’t have it, they still want to continue doing that motion. So I think, for kids, that’s a real fascinating element that really, really gets their attention.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, listen, we appreciate having your attention on our show today. Anna Belle Abraham is US manager of multilingual and multicultural marketing communications for Genera Interactive, a Spain-based company whose brand PlayTales is a leading multi-platform interactive bookstore for kids. And, Anna Belle, thank you so much for joining us today on Beyond the Book.
ABRAHAM: Well, thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed it.
KENNEALLY: We should tell people that Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, like Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series in iTunes, or at our Web site, copyright.com/beyondthebook.
Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.