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eBook Development


The 13th Annual Dust or Magic Institute: Magic-Making Factors #1-3

For 14 years, researchers, reviewers, and thought leaders in the world of interactive media for kids convene at Dust or Magic events to discuss, dissect, discern, and determine where the magic lies – and where it doesn’t – in digital products for youth.

They are helping to chart the way forward for our field, while providing tried-and-true advice to developers as to what constitutes developmentally appropriate learning tools for young people.

I was thrilled to be a part of the Institute for the first time this year.

The overarching goal of the Dust or Magic Institute, I quickly learned, is to define the factors that contribute to making child-focused interactive digital media – whether apps, games, TV, web-based tools and programs, eBooks or toys – worthy of our esteem or otherwise, that is: Magic or Dust.

Products are demoed, analyzed, and critiqued through the lens of childhood development, learning theory, and what can be considered educational play.

At Dust or Magic, the judgments aimed at today’s offerings are binary. But that’s not to say it's all clear-cut. For the world of children’s interactive media is in its infancy – the equivalent of the silent picture show days in the evolution of film – and what makes something “best in class” is changing all the time.

Factors that made magic even five years ago may tend toward dust today. As the devices (hardware) evolve, so must the software, and with it the content. As we learn more about what we can do with our tools, so too expand the myriad options that suggest what we can do with pictures, stories, words, and games to engage and educate young people and lay the foundation for lifelong learning.

Magic-Making Factors #1, #2, & #3

One conclusion we reached this year is that the earliest digital products sought to create one-to-one relationships with users, mirroring the experiences one might have with a book. Also like the book, these products tended to be linear.

Today, however, the strongest products succeed in bursting linear boundaries. They also encourage group experiences and empower users to jump off the screen and relate to each other and their environment.

This can be seen in the many offerings of Toca Boca that inspire creative parallel play among the pre-school set, the screen being their starting point. In Tinybops’ brilliant interactive exploration of the human body, aimed at an older audience, navigating through the app is anything but linear. The same can be said for most of the apps coming out of Touch Press, including their latest: Disney Animated. And Time Traveler Tours’ own innovative approach to educational tourism, in which the screen and story launch users into an exploration of their physical surroundings, was also validated.

The video above shows me demoing not just Beware Madame la Guillotine, but the Time Traveler Tours & Tales concept in general. We came out with a strong 7 out of 10. Pretty good for a first-timer at the Dust or Magic institute, don't you think?

I hope you’ll take a look at it and give us your rating.

Do you have any questions about Dust or Magic? Ask them in the comments. I’ll be happy to address them in future posts. Meantime, stay tuned. More #DustorMagic musings to come!

All best, Sarah



Tools of Change at Dust or Magic

It's conference time again and I'm off! This time to...

...the annual Institute of designers, researchers, and reviewers of interactive media (IM) for children and youth.

So stay tuned for blog posts from historic Lambertville, New Jersey, including:

  • updates on the latest product releases and their use in schools;

  • observations on the intersection between child development theory and emerging interactive teaching-and-learning tools;

  • highlights on what's new in interactive design; and

  • interviews with others who are passionate about the potential of interactive media for children

Meanwhile, I invite you to check out my blog post in O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing about the 3rd, and last, TOC Bologna Conference, where I met many of the fine folks who are the magic behind Dust or Magic.

Your comments welcome!



Indie Book Publishing Options

Indie-publishing has never been easier. As for the stigma attached to doing-it-yourself, it is falling away faster with each new author to find success in the indie-publishing space.

Add to their ranks the "hybrid authors" -- those both traditionally and self-published -- who are going the independent route, and you have the manifestation of a new publishing paradigm. Not only are these authors modeling the way of the future, they are proving that the best way to make it in the authoring business is to be available in as many places and on as many formats as possible to ensure the greatest following. And they are making more money in the process.

The new publishing mantra, à mon humble avis, ought to be:

Give our readers what they want, where and how they want it.

Why? Because more and more readers, even the very young, are reading in a variety of formats, not just print; and they are developing format preferences linked to the time of day and where they are reading. That is to say, while a print book may be the preferred medium in bed at night, literacy habits are often better served these days on tablets and eReaders when in transit on the go.

However, getting your manuscript to the iPad, Nook, or Kindle (to name a few) remains a complex and mysterious process. I’ve been researching the possible avenues for my Time Traveler Tales for months now. And it's been a challenge to get a firm grip on all the options. To help me best make sense of the current state of indie-publishing, I decided to create a summary analysis.

I found the exercise so helpful, I decided to share it you.

The problem is, there is no single, universal way to transform your book to each and every available eReader. There may never be. So until the process of eBook publishing is “universalized”, we have no choice but to format our works for each distribution channel.

By distribution channel, I refer to the retailer ultimately handling your book, and your money. The biggest players in the eBook space today are Amazon (for the Kindle), Barnes & Noble (for the Nook), and Apple (for the iPad). In addition, Sony and Kobo both support their own eReaders as well as bookstores. And Google maintains an online store that can push to several types of eReaders through Google Play. In my summary analysis, called Indie Book Publishing Options, I focus primarily on The Big Three -- Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble (B&N) -- as they are my present priority.

Given that each distributor supports its own reading device, we authors must first decide whether our works are best suited to a single targeted retailer or to all. If we wish to paint with the broadest strokes, we must then decide if we are up for the technical challenge of formatting and publishing to each channel ourselves, or if we'd prefer to have an aggregator do the work for us instead.

An eBook aggregator is a company or service provider that will take your existing manuscript, typically in .doc, .docx, .pdf, or InDesign file formats, and convert it into the formats needed to publish to the various eBook retailers.

Some aggregators offer additional services, including help with cover design, ISBN acquisition, copyediting, copyrighting, and marketing. But no two aggregators provide the same services, so I delineate the offerings unique to each aggregator in my summary analysis as well.

In addition to handling distribution, aggregators will also manage your sales and payments. They provide you with an account dashboard so all you have to do is sit back and watch your royalty payments trickle in (or flood in, if you’re lucky). As the payment models of each aggregator are different, I also compare and contrast these in the document.  

And after identifying aggregator services and targeted distribution channels, accepted file formats, as well as their potential associated costs, I offer my own views on:

  • the pros and cons of DIY vs. aggregator-driven indie-publishing,

  • the conundrum of Digital Rights Management, and

  • the truth -- at least as I see it -- about purchasing ISBNs.

Click Here
to access a free .pdf copy of:

By Sarah Towle

I hope you find it helpful.  All best, Sarah

        PS Have you gone Indie? Please leave a comments and tell us all about it. Are you satisfied with the results?


        *Special thanks are owed to Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, whose book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur -- How to Publish a Book, was an invaluable aid in this research and a must-read by anyone considering self-publication.