This past spring, our colleagues at Sesame Workshop Publishing launched S’More, a new online magazine for kids 2-5. Last week, we got a look into some of the research that informed their publishing decisions; here, they share a glimpse into the production process.
by Paul Roberts, Manager, Digital Publishing Assets, Fulfillment, & Design, Sesame Workshop Publishing
The traditional process of creating an app is often time-consuming, expensive, and complex: delays and unforeseen costs are commonplace due to changing priorities and schedules, especially when development is in partnership with an outside co-developer. Our main challenge in the development of Sesame Street S’More, Sesame Street’s first digital magazine, was to create an engaging learning app for preschoolers, which would be affordable for families and do-able within our internal budget for new products.
After considering outside independent developer partners for some time, we ultimately decided to take on all development in-house to keep costs down while maintaining creative control as well as the agility to make changes on the fly in response to consumer feedback and potential shifts to business strategy. Sesame Street S’More is the first Sesame Workshop app developed entirely internally.
While there are many tools and platforms available that streamline and simplify the creation of an app, most are quite limited in terms of interactivity and customization. Our goal was to go beyond simply presenting prior Sesame Street Magazine print content in a digital format; the material needed to be updated and re-focused for an interactive and engaging digital application.
After almost two years of research and testing in a rapidly evolving marketplace, we selected the digital publishing system offered by Aquafadas. It offers a robust, cost-effective toolset that enables us to develop, test, and publish the entire app in-house. Anyone with desktop publishing experience can learn the basic workflow since it’s centered on a set of plug-ins to an already well-established desktop publishing system. One of the most appealing things about Aquafadas is that it includes child-focused play patterns so important to our preschool audience, such as coloring pages, mazes, and puzzles, whereas other digital magazine toolsets focus more on functionality appropriate for adults.
With any “off the shelf” system, there are trade-offs regarding the degree to which certain aspects of the app can be customized, or the amount of control over the basic core experience and performance. But most, if not all, concerns are offset by Aquafadas’s affordable price point and capability for rapid development.
Like so much content development at Sesame Workshop, our work on Sesame Street S’More is a work in progress. We have found through testing and advice from our Education & Research team that some of the built-in capabilities of the publishing tool had to be adapted or augmented with HTML games we created ourselves, and we also are constantly experimenting to reduce load times and tweak user experience to make the magazine experience better for our very young audience. Some of our work is influencing changes to the tool itself, so Sesame Street S’More may influence the potential for other apps in the future, built with the same tool by other teams, both inside and beyond Sesame Workshop.
Right now, we continue full-steam ahead, measuring consumer sales against development efficiencies and customer feedback against technical possibilities. The free Sesame Street S’More download is proving to be very popular—it consistently ranks in the Workshop’s Top 5 retail apps in terms of weekly downloads. Since its Apple App Store launch in March 2014, Sesame Street S’More has had approximately 90,000 unique customers. We continue to assess how to convert more customers who enjoy the free “lite” version of the app into paying subscribers, and we are even considering releasing some of our issues as stand-alone apps to broaden the customer base.
The world of apps remains one of innovation on all fronts—content innovation, technological innovation, and even business strategy innovation. With Sesame Street S’More, we are hoping to prove the tried and true “magazine” format can also be innovative. Yes, it can and should draw on all of the traditional activities that are still beneficial for and relevant to a preschooler, but with new capabilities for touch, audio, video, and constant conversation with our consumers to learn how to improve, we think we can continue Sesame Workshop’s longstanding role as a leader in developing enjoyable, skills-based materials for young children using all the tools and technologies available to us.
You can find Sesame Street S’More here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sesame-street-smore!-digital/id797795128?mt=8
Paul Roberts is Manger of Digital Assets, Fulfillment, and Design for the Publishing department at Sesame Workshop. In his eight years at the Workshop, he has overseen the development and organization of the department’s digital asset library, which includes over 3,000 titles; designed and created original e-book content; and produced promotional materials, including the Sesame Publishing Catalog. He is currently the technical lead and manages visual design for Sesame Street S’More digital magazine.