Tag Archives: Michel Kripalani

Books, Apps, and Us: A Chat with Michel Kripalani



Today, we are checking in with Oceanhouse Media (OM) to see what they’ve been up to since our last visit, in August.  Prior to that, we first met with its founder Michel Kripalani in February 2011.  OM keeps evolving with each encounter. Their title list has expanded, in concert with the size of their offices.


Joy Chu:  Would you share some stories about your latest projects? Your partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises continues happily! His 108th birthday was just this month (March 2).

Michel Kripalani:  We have some very exciting titles coming soon. In the Dr. Seuss line, we’re about to come out with The Shape of Me and Other Stuff  (release date March 21) . . .




…and Horton Hatches the Egg (release date April 4). We’re super excited for both of those.




Recently, we’ve launched the Dr. Seuss Beginner Book Collection #1, which has done really well. It seems that people are gravitating towards this idea of having multiple books in one app.

We’re going to follow that up with a Collection #2  (release date March 21);  and also a Mercer Mayer Little Critter collection. Finally, The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library series has been very well received, with the first two apps that came out; and we have a number of new titles in production as well. The team is incredibly busy and we have a lot of great omBooks (Oceanhouse Media digital books) coming in the next three months.




JC:  Tell us about the books you do with the Smithsonian, of Triceratops Gets Lost; It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex! and Penguin’s Family. What age group is this geared towards?

MK:  The Smithsonian titles are great. We work with Soundprints, out of Connecticut, who is the publisher of the books. The books originally came in print form, with audio CDs attached.



Now, we’ve taken those materials and combined them into apps, making them more interactive. There’s some really great omBooks out there as you’ve already listed — Triceratops Gets Lost, It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex!, Polar Bear Horizon, Woolly Mammoth In Trouble and Penguin’s Family. Children from 3 to 7 years old really seem to enjoy these educational apps.



JC:  These titles are nonfiction-oriented — as opposed to the classic Seuss titles. Are your steps different when doing these books?  Will the emphasis be more on sidebar material, in addition to terminology?

MK:  The steps are not really that different. We always take the original source material and adapt it to interactive form as best we can.

For Dr. Seuss, it happens to be fiction and storytelling and in the case of Smithsonian there tends to be more scientific content. Our process is very similar. In terms of sidebar material, we use everything that’s provided to us.

It just so happens that the Smithsonian line, and also The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library line, have a lot of this additional information that we’re able to embed in the apps.

Sidebar from "Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur? All About Dinosaurs"

Sidebar material from "Polar Bear Horizon"



JC:  I’m excited you will be producing an omBook featuring one of my all-time favorite artists, Byron Barton!

MK:  We’re extremely excited as well. The books are fantastic to begin with, and we’ve added a real fun level of interactivity that we think will be very exciting for toddlers.

The first release is Planes, launching on March 14. Additional omBooks based on Barton’s transportation books will be released in the next several months through our partnership with HarperCollins Children’s Books.




JC:  You have another addition to your stable since our last meeting: omBooks affiliated with Kidwick Books.

MK:  Kidwick Books are a perfect example of how picture books with great storytelling can be transformed into engaging, interactive apps.

The award-winning Leo the Lightning Bug as well as Ellison the Elephant and A Frog Thing are a wonderful addition to our omBook collection, with stories that encourage patience, perseverance, and confidence in young children.




JC:  You now appear to have a mix between the author/artists you deal directly with [examples: Mercer Meyer; Alona Frankel’s Potty series; Dr Seuss Enterprises; Kidwick Books]; and other projects in tandem with major publishing houses [examples: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Official Character Arts, LLC./Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer].

Now that Oceanhouse has hit the ground running, will you continue producing omBooks as direct partners, special third party licensee arrangements, or both? In what percentage of each?

MK:  For us it’s very straight-forward. We do the deal with whoever holds the rights.

If the author and illustrator hold the digital rights to their material, then we’re happy to do a direct deal with them. If the rights reside with the publisher, we’re equally happy to work with the publisher. It really makes no difference to us, and it’s a little bit hard for me to predict which way the rights will be held in the future.

JC:  What do you look for when you take on either of the above business relationships? And would you define the term “Evergreen Title” in terms of book print quantity? What about web presence (ie, how many “hits”?); when this is included in a project proposal?

MK:  Every book and every line is different. To date, as a business, we’ve been looking for evergreen titles from big brands. Clearly, Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears and Little Critter all fall in this category.

So in general, we do tend to gravitate towards lines with multiple books, a dozen or more is attractive to us, and titles that have been selling for many, many years. Over time, I expect this will change, and we may start to explore books just because we think there’s a chance that in an app adaptation they’ll do particularly well.

JC:  If an author/illustrator owns the complete rights to their currently out-of-print book, they would ideally show a written proposal. What should it contain?

MK:  A written proposal is a great place to start. People can feel free to contact us via email (info@oceanhousemedia.com).

A simple summary is great. Perhaps deliver a few PDF images of some pages as well. We love to know what print runs and sales figures have been in the past.

To date, most of the titles that we’ve adapted into apps have sold well over 50,000 or more copies, some into the hundreds of thousands and even millions.

JC:  Any other new news you can share with us?

MK:  One other line that we recently launched that we’re really excited about is adaptations of the Picture Me® Press books, which allow children to put their photographs into the omBooks.

In physical form, you’d put a 4×6 photo at the back of the book and see it on every page. But in app form (pictured here), we’ve found that it’s even that much more playful because you can use the camera on the device to take a picture or go get something out of your photo library.

Then we still add all of the interactivity, word highlighting and playful elements. It’s a series that we’re very excited about. Initial titles have done quite well.


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Are Apps and eBooks for You?

Our friend Michel Kripalani gets us up to speed with what’s currently happening at Oceanhouse Media next week. Watch for future announcements!

Click here for information about Michel’s upcoming presentation at USD / SCBWI-San Diego‘s monthly meeting on Saturday, March 10th, 2012

A night time story for book, iPad, and iPhone…

Today we get a peek behind the process of turning one original book into an iPad and iPhone app, respectively.

The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the first title produced through an agreement between Oceanhouse Media and HarperCollins Children’s Books to bring more Berenstain Bears titles to the app market. Each omBook™  is created for two formats:  one for iOS (all Apple devices);  and one for Android devices.

Michel Kripalani, founder and president of Oceanhouse Media,  visited the Got Story Countdown last February to guide us  through his apps of classic books, including many best-selling Dr. Seuss titles.

Backstory on the Berenstain Bears:  Stan and Jan Berenstain were already successful magazine cartoonists when they wrote their first children’s book.  Inspired by their own two children, the bear family Berenstain first appeared in The Big Honey Hunt under the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books imprint of Random House in 1962.

Mike Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

Mike Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

Many more titles followed as the tales of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey Bear garnered praise from education professionals and the reading public. The long-running series of picture, beginner and chapter books spawned a popular TV show on PBS.  In 2005, the  Berenstain Bears franchise moved to HarperCollins. Son Mike joined the enterprise after Stan passed away in 2005.  More than 300 Berenstain Bears books have been published, and more than 260 million copies have been sold.

I was invited to visit Michel and his team at Oceanhouse Media’s new office facilities in Encinitas, California, and to preview Bedtime Battle. Development Director Greg Uhler  joined the conversation.

Joy Chu:  Oceanhouse Media was already producing omBooks of the Berenstain Bears/Living Lights book series through the religious publishing house, Zondervan. Did you arrive at your current arrangement with HarperCollins as a result of that on-going relationship, since Zondervan is one of their divisions?

Michel Kripalani:  Certainly, the success that we had with the Zondervan titles helped. Previously, we had gotten The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule to #1 in the Book category on the App Store. However, we needed to strike a completely new deal for these titles. I had numerous conversations and in-person meetings with the folks at HarperCollins, including Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books. It took many months of going back and forth before Oceanhouse Media was given a green light to proceed. Bedtime Battles is simply the first of many apps that we hope to deliver together.

From there, HarperCollins Children’s Books selected The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle as the first app to be developed. It’s a fun story and seemed like an appropriate title to launch the omBook series.

Written in 2005 by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain, Brother and Sister Bear will do anything to postpone bedtime. Playing with dinosaurs, having a tea party and getting a piggyback ride from Papa Bear all sound better than going to bed. Thus, the great bedtime battle begins!

Screen shot from main menu

Screen shot from main menu, iPad version

Greg Uhler:  The mischievous antics in the story gave our team the opportunity to be especially creative with the voice-over narration and custom background audio.

Karen Kripalani in the voice-over booth

Karen Kripalani in the voice-over booth

Michel Kripalani:  Swipe through the various pages of the app and you soon realize that the hallmark feel of the Berenstains is prevalent throughout.

As we’ve done with the Dr. Seuss apps, Oceanhouse Media maintains the original content of the book version. Every word and illustration that’s in the original 32-page print version of Bedtime Battle is included in the app. However, to display the artwork and text as large as possible on mobile devices, the app contains over 50 pages that pan and zoom to accentuate key parts of the illustrations.

Example of "pan and zoom" effect

Example of “pan and zoom” effect

The page zooms out to show more of the original illustration

Greg Uhler:  We don’t take liberties with the artwork and text. What we do is enhance what is already there. For instance, we add a thoughtful narrative, custom sound effects and music, and an appropriate level of interactivity that doesn’t distract from the original story.

We also use a “pan and zoom” effect where we take a page with multiple illustrations and enlarge individual images to create single pages within the app.

A key feature in The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the ability to touch individual words of the text and hear them spoken aloud.

For example, if a child is struggling to read a specific word on a page, they simply tap the word and immediately they will hear it pronounced for them.  We feel this feature provides an immediate and simple way for children to learn, whether reading with a parent or on their own.

Of course, Oceanhouse Media’s trademark reading modes — Read To Me, Read It Myself and Auto Play — are also included in the app, with word highlighting as the story is read and words zooming up when pictures are touched.

A word is highlighted when tapped

A word is highlighted and spoken aloud when the picture is tapped

Michel Kripalani:  HarperCollins Children’s Books, publisher of this Berenstain Bears book, reviewed various stages of the app’s development, commenting on such things as text placement and hot spots, areas on each page that allow a reader to tap on an image and see and hear the word.

In addition, Jan and Mike Berenstain reviewed the app and gave their input during the final phase of development.

One change they did request was to have the poem that’s on the first page of the book be the opening page of the app. They also asked that the treehouse image that’s on the title page of the book be its own page in the app.

Treehouse image from the second page of the omBook

Treehouse image from the second page of the omBook


They felt the addition of these two pages to the app would make it more akin to the physical book and would properly set the stage for the story. So, for the first time in an Oceanhouse Media digital book app, there’s a two-page introduction leading into the beginning of the story.

Greg Uhler:  As a developer, to have direct input from the author is a tremendous opportunity. We feel honored to have the Berenstains’ stamp of approval on the app and their valuable feedback along the way to make the app feel as close to their printed book as possible.

The poem that Jan and Mike Berenstain requested be the first page of the omBook

The poem that Jan and Mike Berenstain requested be the first page of the omBook


Michel Kripalani:  One challenge that Oceanhouse Media has mastered is adapting the images from the physical books to the 3.5 inch size of the iPhone screen as well as on iPad and Android tablets.

IPad and iPhone, side-by-side

IPad and iPhone, side-by-side

This is where our team’s years of software experience comes to play. A unique development process ensures that images are of the highest quality possible across all of the mobile devices we support.

iPad version

iPad

iPhone4

iPhone4

iPhone3

iPhone3

Above, top-to-bottom:  iPad, iPhone4, and  iPhone3.  Their screen sizes represent their relative screen resolutions. There are the same number of pages in the iPhone version as in the iPad version.

Greg Uhler:  Creating apps is a software business. But you need more than just the ability to write and program code to create a kid-friendly app. A strong artistic component, attention to detail, and sensitivity to the needs of children go hand-in-hand with the technology. It’s less about what we can do on a mobile device, and more about what we should do.

Tech artists working at Oceanhouse Media

Tech artists working at Oceanhouse Media

Most everyone at Oceanhouse Media has kids of our own, so we’re sensitive to the needs of young readers. We create all of our children’s book apps with a user-friendly interface that allows kids as young as two years old to enjoy them.

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Joy Chu:   Thank you, Michel Kripalani and Greg Uhler, for sharing your hard-won wisdom and details behind the  collaborative creativity of your team. And a special shout-out to Cathy Veloskey for coordinating all the details with us :)

Other news:  Michel Kripalani will be among the presenters at the upcoming 40th Annual SCBWI Conference in L.A.

Check out his workshop presentation, in person or via SCBWI’s live blog this Saturday. The Conference itself happens August 5-8.

Wait, wait. . . there more!  August 2, 2011 is the official pub date for The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook.

Icon for Bearstain Bears Bedtime BattleTo celebrate, we are giving away a free download of The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook (for iOS devices only). Enter a comment below. You will be asked for your email address — which will not appear on this page. Three winners will be selected at random from comments posted by August 9th. Good luck!



Late-breaking NEWS:
Click here for the names of the winners!


The Original Interactive Story App is….

…a printed and bound picture book!

It’s exciting to peruse what will lie ahead to promote children’s literacy via our chat with Michel Kripalani. We’ll watch with awe as the digital book evolution continues.

In the meantime, the printed picture book is here to stay, as witness this joyful addition to any library…

On digital rights

Today we’ll wrap up our exploration of electronic media with the issue of digital rights. Our chat with Michel Kripalani of Oceanhouse Media continues…

7.  How closely involved is Dr. Seuss Enterprises with creating the app?

Michel Kripalani: Dr. Seuss Enterprises owns all digital rights, so we were able to engage in licensing arrangements directly with them. They are very involved at the onset of each app and also at the stage of final review. They approve all voice-over actors and all aspects of each app. That said, the “middle 90%” where we go off and do our production work is generally all managed entirely by the Oceanhouse Media team.

8. In your licensing agreement with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, you absorb the costs of producing the app, from start to finish. You’ve already completed 16 out of 44 titles. How long does it take, on the average, to complete production of one story app?

Michel Kripalani: On average, we’ll spend about 8 weeks developing each omBook™,  now that the foundational technology is in place.  Multiple disciplines are involved during this time, including graphic designers, voice-over artists, sound effects artists and musicians, technical artists, programmers, management, and the licensor.

9. The Cat in the Hat app sells for $3.99, and is usable on any Apple mobile device — that is, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. You sell a separate version for the Android. How many Dr. Seuss apps have you sold overall so far?

Tia plays on an iPad


 

Michel Kripalani: We’ve sold over 500,000 Dr. Seuss apps (in total) and we recently crossed the one million mark for paid app downloads at the App Store (all Oceanhouse Media apps). This is fairly astounding when you consider that the company is only 2 years old. Amazingly, just two and a half years ago, very few people had ever even heard of apps.

10.  What advice would you give to new and seasoned authors (and, if applicable, their agents) concerning electronic rights when they draw up contracts on their future books?

Michel Kripalani: When an author is in a position to keep physical and digital book rights distinct, we have found that it just makes sense for them to do so.

Oftentimes, an author may want to work directly with an app publisher on the digital versions of their books, regardless of who holds the print rights. There are major differences in competencies between a physical book publisher and a digital app developer / publisher. Authors need to ask themselves if they would be better served crafting deals appropriately.

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On voice-overs, and testing story apps

Our chat with Michel Kripalani, Founder and President of Oceanhouse Media continues.

4.  The voice-over is an important aspect of The Cat in the Hat. Tell us about the planning and production of this aspect. Who takes care of that? Were there many audition tapes before the final version was arrived at?

Michel Kripalani: Greg Uhler starts the process by pulling the script together and determining our character voice needs.

As the director for our voice-over (VO) sessions, Karen Kripalani oversees all of our VO casting. A former actress, and VO artist for over 15 years in Los Angeles, Karen takes the script and character breakdown that Greg provides, and auditions 15-to-30 actors. She shares her top choices with Greg and other members of our team. From there, we get approval from our licensors.

Then it’s time to record in the studio. Great care is taken to get the performance we want. Clarity for the listener, and emotion and pacing intended by the author.

Finally, the files are processed and implemented into the app. It’s quite an in-depth process, but we believe that our attention to detail comes through in the final product.

5.  You just brought out the much-anticipated Fox in Socks. Your press release states “. . . . Jump in and join the fun, but take it slowly because this book is dangerous for your tongue!”  Was this project a unique departure from the previous Dr. Seuss titles you’ve done so far?

Michel Kripalani: Although the core architecture remains the same, each app inevitably gets some customization, whether it is a unique text effect, a visual special effect, or new way for us to play sound.

Because of each story’s uniqueness, we focus more on efficient processes to do the things common to each app, so that we have more cycles to devote to the new and special things each individual app requires.

The secondary answer to this question is that each app itself is unique in the presentation, the actor’s delivery and the audio treatment. Using the same tools “under the hood” simply means that we have a consistent starting point. Each app attains its own magic by the time it is released.

Green Eggs and Ham for the iPad

6. You test your apps with a variety of audiences. Have you discovered any surprise feedback that proved useful? And do you include reading specialists among your testers?

Toddlers playing with an iPad app

Michel Kripalani: Feedback we receive will often trigger the design and development of a new feature.

The first few omBooks ™ shipped with only two ways to read the book:  Read to Me (the narrated version) and Read it Myself (no narration).  We thought we had our entire audience covered, from kids to adults.

A few weeks after shipping our first omBooks, we starting getting feedback at iTunes and through emails, saying the apps weren’t well-suited for toddlers.  We thought, that’s what Read to Me is for, isn’t it?  The book will read to the kid, right? Wrong.

We discovered that toddlers were interacting with the apps in an entirely different way than we’d imagined! Toddlers would “sloppy tap” with multiple fingers — or palms (or hands!).

They loved things that looked like buttons, so they kept tapping the on-screen Return button and going to the main menu! And since we normally use swipes to turn pages, “sloppy taps” were causing the pages to turn, frustrating the little ones!

Toddler interacts with iPad

We then realized we needed a third way for users to experience the apps. Auto Play allows parents to start the book, hand their device to the toddler, and know that the entire book will be read to them from beginning to end.

Words still highlight. Artwork still pans and zooms. Pictures can still be tapped on. Music and sound still play. But page turning and returning to the main menu were disabled. Our apps were now toddler approved!

"All by Myself" by Mercer Mayer, for the iPad

"All by Myself" by Mercer Mayer, for the iPad

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Tomorrow: On digital rights

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From games to children’s story apps

We continue our exploration of developing books for electronic media with a visit to Oceanhouse Media. Located in Encinitas, California, they are the creators of many best-selling apps, including classic Dr. Seuss books, Berenstain Bears titles, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Mercer Meyer’s Little Critter series.

Today, we chat with Michel Kripalani, Founder and President of Oceanhouse Media.

Michel Kripalani, CEO and founder, Oceanhouse Media Inc.

Michel Kripalani

1.  You founded Oceanhouse Media (OM) in early 2009, after working as Director of Business Development at Autodesk, and before that, as CEO/founder of Presto Studios, developers of the graphic video games, “The Journeyman Project” and “Myst III: Exile.” Several members of your current team of developers also came from the video game arena. Was it a natural segue to go from gaming to the world of children’s picture books? Or was it an entirely new world for you?

The Dr. Seuss camera, an iPhone app

Michel Kripalani: Switching from the gaming world to children’s picture books was a straightforward process for us. My history in producing interactive material goes back to 1990 when I was a lead programmer for Verbum Magazine, the world’s first interactive multimedia magazine. We were riding the launch of CD-ROM. I’ve been involved in interactive mediums ever since.

Certain aspects of gaming engines are particularly well suited and have similar “under the hood” features and product demands as digital books. Our team’s extensive experience building cross-platform engines for different displays and devices made the transition to digital books relatively easy for us.

Earlier apps developed by Oceanhouse Media include interactive
card decks, for clients like Hay House and Chronicle Books

Our gaming software experience became especially important when we developed the architecture for the initial iPhone apps. Its design and programming set the groundwork for our iPad apps, and now the framework for Android apps as well.

“Lorax Garden,”  an iPhone Game

Our omBooks™ (Oceanhouse Media digital books) are based on proprietary technology that we’ve designed from the ground up. Characteristic features found in our Read to Me, Read it Myself, and Auto Play (first introduced in the Fall of 2009), have been adopted by other children’s digital book app publishers. As frontrunners in this new world of digital books, I feel we have the ability to set the stage for how digital books should look and feel.

2.  Would you take us through OM’s approach by walking us through your creative process with The Cat in the Hat?

Michel Kripalani: We were faced with two major design challenges in adapting The Cat in the Hat. The first question was what set of features should the app include? As it turned out, the real question wasn’t what the app should have, but rather why.

Through research, it became clear to us that Theodore Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) intent was to provide highly engaging and imaginative works that early readers would actually enjoy reading. We asked ourselves — and professional educators — if Geisel had been creating digital books, what would he have done differently?

We came up with a few key features:

• Multiple ways for children and adults to read the book: Read to Me, Read it Myself, and Auto Play

• Professional narration and sound, to keep young children highly engaged

• Word highlighting as the text is being read. To provide a direct connection between the written word and its pronunciation.

• Picture/word association. To encourage children to discover words pictured in the illustrations.  These features have formed the backbone of every omBook that Oceanhouse Media has produced.

CatInTheHat-Screen2

The second challenge with The Cat in the Hat concerned bending the laws of physics . . . well, almost!  That is, how would we take a physical book, and display everything on the 3.5” inch screen of an iPhone (remember, in early 2010, there was no iPad yet).

CatInTheHat-Screen3

I proposed breaking the text down into smaller chunks and displaying each segment as its own page.  This got our development director Greg Uhler, thinking that the same thing could be done with the artwork. We’d zoom in and pan the artwork, selecting specific parts of the scene and text to focus upon.

CatInTheHat-Screen4

As we prototyped this approach, we discovered that we could enhance the experience further through transitions of the artwork. Dramatic moments could be conveyed to the reader by a slow pan. Surprising moments are enhanced through quick zooms or reveals.

CatInTheHat-Screen5

3. Your approach is not to animate any aspect of the illustrations, but rather, to place emphasis on the words themselves. Why?

Michel Kripalani: In the case of The Cat in the Hat, we tried to imagine what it would be like to have design meetings with Ted Geisel (Dr Seuss) sitting in on the brainstorming sessions with us.

CatInTheHat-Screen6

Dr. Seuss’s books were designed to teach kids how to read. We use this as a gating factor for most all design decisions (i.e. will a child become more literate with this?). If yes, the feature often goes in. If no, it gets cut.

CatInTheHat-Screen7

This allows us to focus on what is really important. By omitting superfluous animation and games, we keep production costs down. This, in turn, allows for reasonable app prices — our children’s book apps are priced from $1.99 to $3.99 — and accessibility.

CatInTheHatLITE-Screen2

CatInTheHatLITE-Screen3

CatInTheHatLITE-Screen4

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Tomorrow:  Adding the voice-over

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More on creating apps from picture books

Our next Countdown Interview will feature Oceanhouse Media, creators of the best-selling Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, and Mercer Meyer/Little Critter apps for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android.

Fox in Socks for the iPad

Check here for interview dates. You will be able to post your own questions live. You can subscribe to this blog for notification, or visit our public Facebook page, Got Story?