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Industry News: Is Curious George what our future looks like?

April 6, 2013

Back in the days when people were buying a lot of DVDs, rather than just streaming them on Netflix and Hulu, one of the key elements in the DVD ratings that were published here and there were the extras. Whether there were outtakes, deleted scenes, or interviews with the cast, director, crew, and caterers, there had better be extras on the DVD.

We may be moving that way–and beyond–with books. And Curious George may be one of the characters taking us there. The series, which is more than 70 years old, is the first of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s children’s series to be featured in a multi-platform approach that, according to Publisher’s Weekly, includes “a Web site, apps, books, and games.” The goal of the approach is to appeal to both the education market and directly to consumers.

It helps that one of the apps involved, Curious George at the Zoo, was recently inducted to the App Store Hall of Fame, whatever that is. Presumably, it means the app is cool and a lot of people have used it and enjoyed it. There’s also a free Curious George reader for iPads, a curated collection of books, and links to different games and activities at CuriousGeorge.com.

Overall, the moves are part of HMH’s efforts to reposition itself as the industry evolves.

What this means to you: In a world where everyone’s looking for discriminators, we may eventually reach the point where just a solid book isn’t enough. And while someone who’s brother or kid can produce killer apps and websites could replicate some of this type of content, this overall multi-platform approach is something traditional publishers can do much more easily than the rest of us.

In other words, if the next 50 Shades of Grey comes with an app and a website and all kinds of extra activities readers can use to extend the experience, readers might be more likely to plunk down some cash, and might buy some of the extra products. (Yes, I realize there’s a large segment of the Internet that already extends the 50 Shades experience for free, but my point is still worth considering.)

The e-book transition is still occurring but it’s mostly yesterday’s news at this point. E-reader sales are down and e-book sales aren’t growing explosively any more. But that’s not the end of the evolution. It’s the thing that makes the next stage possible. And as the competition becomes fiercer and more people enter through more entryways to the market, the need for a discriminator will increase. That might be as simple as some extra scenes in your e-book. It could be as complicated as an app and a website and an entire fictional world, such as Pottermore.

This isn’t to say that a solid book isn’t the prime mover–without it, you’re hosed (unless you’re EL James or–some would argue–Stephenie Meyer), but over time, the books that hit the biggest home runs may also find an additional suite of products to go along with them. And while you can’t necessarily produce a multi-media spectacle on your own, you might be able to partner with someone and produce a cool, inexpensive app for iPhone and Android that helps increase the attention your book could get.

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