DreamWorks partnership continues storybook beginning for iPhone app developer

Mar 19, 2010
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While the DreamWorks computer-animated comedy How to Train Your Dragon will be unveiled on the big screen this week, fans can already tap into its storyline via the iPhone.  A mobile variation of the movie is currently available as a $2.99 iPhone app. Developed by Santa Barbara-based FrogDog Media, How to Train Your Dragon – Kid’s Book tells the […]

While the DreamWorks computer-animated comedy How to Train Your Dragon will be unveiled on the big screen this week, fans can already tap into its storyline via the iPhone. 

A mobile variation of the movie is currently available as a $2.99 iPhone app. Developed by Santa Barbara-based FrogDog Media, How to Train Your Dragon – Kid’s Book tells the story of an outcast teenager who comes into his own with the help of a friendly wild dragon. The real fairy tale here, however, is the backstory of how a year-old startup secured a long-term partnership with a major Hollywood studio. 

“I don’t know if there is a formula in this new frontier of developing applications for consumers,” explained FrogDog founder and CEO Woody Sears.

Two years ago, before Apple opened its iTunes App Store, Sears was a hobbyist children’s bookauthor who made a living selling enterprise software and business applications for a startup called Vettro (and AT&T before that.) In February 2009, Sears and two partners started the company and by May had its Binky the Elephant application on the market. By the end of the year, the company developed 25 iStoryTime branded and beautifully crafted iPhone apps (some of which authored by Sears) that sell for $1.99 or less. 

In October, Publisher’s Weekly ran a profile of FrogDog and the company’s early success selling e-Books via the App Store. Shortly thereafter came a call from DreamWorks. 

“They saw that we were doing well in the rankings and we became one of a number of developer’s they interviewed,” Sears said. 

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While writers can spend a lifetime fruitlessly pitching screenplays to studios like DreamWorks, in this embryonic age of applications, traditional media companies are targeting storytellers who resonate in mobile media. 

In a prepared statement, DreamWorks’ head of Worldwide Publishing for Animation Consumer Products Kristy Cox notes that iStoryTime adaptations “will allow fans of (the studio’s) movies to return from the theater, download the online book, and immediately stay connected with their favorite characters and movie moments.” 

Tailor-made for the iPad

With Apple’s iPad tablet computer scheduled to hit stores April 3, all of the nearly 50 iStoryTime titles will also be compatible for the 9.7 inch high-resolution screen size of the new device. The How to Train Your Dragon title is the first of many applications the company is developing with an eye more targeted to the iPad. 

“We have more space and options to do things that make it look more like a book,” Sears said. “There are so many things you can do with the operating system and touch interface to make great books on the go.” 

Beyond How to Train Your Dragon, FrogDog has the exclusive rights to publish children’s books around additional DreamWorks properties including Shrek Forever After, Megamind and The Penguins of Madagascar. The nine-person company shares the revenue with DreamWorks. Other popular titles that FrogDog publishes independent from the studio are Jack and the BoxAlphabet Rhyme Time, and Alice in Wonderland. While the company has dabbled with a version of Binky the Elephant for Google’s Android platform, Sears said sales “are not nearly the volume as they are in the App Store.” 

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The 32-year-old who was inspired to write stories for his two young children (with a third on the way) is now an unlikely interactive publishing pioneer of the 21st century. 

“While having your own content you create from the beginning is an honor that cannot be replaced,” he said, “working with other people’s content within cutting edge animation is pretty fantastic too.” 

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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