Made in me is a digital publisher, a kids media company based in the UK. When we launched Me Books in 2011, we wanted to create a kids app that was all about reading. A lot of so-called book apps that launched at the same time didn’t focus on text. Words were optional, and often the apps worked better in terms of design and overall user experience without words. Our app was going to be about reading. In fact, the inspiration for Me Books was the age-old experience of adults reading to kids.
We all know that children love reading the same book over and over and over again. By the tenth read, most adults – and kids! – start making things up. They talk about the little rabbit that appears on every page. They make up dialogue for characters who might not speak in the written story. Many will even make up completely new stories based on the pictures. Me Books encourages and enhances this classic behaviour with technology. Readers can customise their own versions of the story by replacing the default audio with their own narration and sound effects through audio hot spots.
You can save multiple versions of each story and share it with family and friends through a communal account. An uncle can record a story to his niece who lives on a different continent. A mother travelling to Bologna can record a bedtime story for her kids from her hotel room.
Me Books is essentially a digital bookshop for children’s books: picture books, comics and illustrated chapter books. It’s free to download and contains one free book. Readers can then go to the in-app shop to buy additional digital books that we license from traditional publishers. In 2011, the business model was a straight-forward retail model. It was a bookshop designed to sell people digital books. We also launched a website where you could by digital books, then port your purchases onto any touchscreen device as long as you had an account – just like Kindle. In the last four years, the app has been downloaded nearly 1,000,000 times. Over 1.4 million digital books have been downloaded, and our newsletter database has 70,000 e-mails and counting.
A lot of our success is due to marketing. We partnered with family friendly companies like fast food chains, charities, e-tailers, newspapers, etc. to give away digital books as value adds for their customers. One in five people who download our free app will buy a book! Our strategy, therefore, was to get 5 million people – or more! – to download our app. The marketing campaigns used our partners’ massive traffic to give Me Books more downloads. Even better is that the marketing partners paid us! These are actually special sales: business-to-business transactions, just like ‘free’ books in McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes or ‘free’ books packed with DVDs. We get paid a unit cost per donwload.
The revenue we make from marketing campaigns is now greater than the money we make from the in-app shop! It became our main focus in 2013: to convince more advertising agencies and marketing directors at family-friendly companies to run Me Books promotions. Soon, we were under pressure to finalise a lot of campaigns. This meant going to publishers to seek immediate approval to use their books in our marketing activity. Most publishers could not – or would not – get back to us quickly. It was at this moment that we became publishers ourselves.
We started creating our own books so that we could run campaigns. One of our first titles was ‘A Home for Humphrey’, a picture book written and illustrated by tattoo artist, Nikko Barber. It’s about a bear cub who is now old enough to hibernate in his own cave next winter. He’s not too happy about leaving his mum – nor is he happy about spending winter all alone – so he spends the rest of the year looking for potential flatmates …
‘Humphrey’ and other books we created ourselves were featured heavily in campaigns so that they are some of our most downloaded titles. As a result, we started showing these digital books traditional publishers – as well as to TV production companies and broadcasters. Surprisingly, many were interested in what we were doing! We sold ‘Little Legends’ to Pan Macmillan. Another title is awaiting a contract from a TV production company. Two more digital Me Books have physical book deals in the works. Last year, we spent our time at Bologna meeting publishers to get their books into our Me Books shop. This year we are spending most of our time selling physical book rights behind the digital books we created!
Me Books launched as a digital shop. Then the app transformed into a marketing channel. Now we use Me Books to launch new books – new kids brands. Every step has been an accident. Every strategy of ours has had to change as the market changes, as the world of digital publishing and app developing twists and turns.
Who knows what Me Books will be at the end of 2015?