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Digital storytelling for kids: an interview with Made in Me

Tell us the story of Made in Me, how did you get started? What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in getting where you are today?

James: Made in Me was born in 2009 when a little group of friends and family collectively working in visual effects decided to explore the possibilities of digital storytelling for kids. We all hailed from the TV and Film industry and worked with computer graphics. We were already passionate about how digital technology can serve a good narrative, and as lifelong fans of children’s stories of all shapes and sizes, we felt Made in Me was the perfect combination of our creative and business ambitions. We met Eric when he was at Penguin. He joined last year.

Eric: We all met when we launched the Land of Me as a digital storytelling brand under the Ladybird imprint. I loved what we made together. When I left Penguin, I wanted to go someplace scrappy and entrepreneurial …. And here we are!

We’re most familiar with Me Books, can you tell our readers a bit more about it?

James: Me Books started out as a simple way that technology could encourage storytelling with picture books. By allowing families to easily record their own voices and attach them to their favourite stories, we felt the app encouraged a behaviour and a playfulness that was consistent with the age-old tradition of bedtime storybook hour. With so many book apps trying to embellish the core experience of a picture book in some way with game-like or animated elements, we wanted to support and preserve all the good stuff that happens already, rather than have the technology sit in the driver’s seat. Off the back of this very simple experience we created an app that allows you to browse a digital book shop full of popular titles from Peter Rabbit to Peppa Pig. What started as a simple idea has quickly grown to a new publishing platform with almost 200 titles on offer from some of the largest publishers and brands in the world.

Made in Me are creating more of your own IP, working directly with writers and illustrators, what are your plans for this?

Eric: Me Books has proved to be more than just a shop for digital picture books. It’s a platform from where we can launch new worlds, new kids and storytelling IP. The print run on a physical picture book debut would be … 3k. We’re able to have thousands more engage with picture books we have commissioned ourselves and are debuting as Me Books. A Home for Humphrey is a great example. It’s a lovely title created by a tattoo artist and talented illustrator named Nikko Barber. He wrote and illustrated it! We’ve launched the brand as a Me Book and are working with an independent production company to develop it for television – and beyond!

The children’s book market is pretty buoyant compared to other areas, why do you think this is?

James: Despite firmly believing that there is a significant opportunity in children’s digital publishing, I don’t think print books are going anywhere. Particularly with picture books where the physical object is such a key part of the experience.

Eric: I also think for kids it’s not about either or – they want it all: the book, the ebook, as well as the toothbrush and t-shirt.

How are digital technologies changing children’s publishing? Do you foresee any exciting disruptions in 2014? 

Eric: There are several personalised print-on-demand start-ups who’ve created really compelling books that readers customise, then order online and via touchscreens. They use iPhones and other platforms to sell their physical product, but share the sales with no one! They are publishers – but have not published a single book till now.

James: I think major disruptions in publishing are also related to the ever-increasing competition from all media. If children are reading fewer books it’s not because other media is necessarily more appealing; it’s because children have less time to read. Just looking at my own kids – who both love the TV, the iPad, Spotify and the PlayStation – their enthusiasm for reading is equal to the excitement they have for other formats. Disruption is inevitable as publishers – and everyone in media, for that matter – struggle to have their story heard in an increasingly noisy landscape.

We’ve fallen in love with Sneak, what sparked the idea?

James: I went through a phase of playing a version of the game Grandmother’s Footsteps with my kids. One of us would pretend to be a sleeping dragon, while the others would creep across the room in an attempt to steal the treasure. If the ‘sneakers’ made any noise, the dragon would stir, wake up and eat them! One evening my little boy Joe (aged 5) said that we should make an app of the game. To be honest he says that a lot, but on this occasion it made us think, ‘Yeah that might work, actually …’ So we did it!

Where would Made in Me like to be at the end of 2014?

James: Somewhere sunny! Joking aside, we’d like to have grown our digital publishing business – Me Books – to include new formats for comics and activity books, raised our visibility in the US with some major partners in the works – and have found the time for a few more creative experiments like Sneak.

Eric: We are an indie – still a start-up in many ways. I’d like us to still be on the fringes to kids entertainment: part digital publisher, part TV producer, part games company – but a go-to creative partner for great storytelling. And yeah, somewhere sunny would be nice.

Visit Made in Me’s website to find out more about their work.

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