Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Magic Town: A Place Where Stories Live?

Destination websites have always been attractive to those searching for that one place where they can find everything they want under one roof. The challenge is often to get competitors to collaborate and realise that working together often makes more sense than duplicating cost and effort. Often it needs a third party to pull the competitors together and present the range in a neutral and compelling place.

The Magic Town platform is being launched by Mindshapes with the aim of creating a compelling online site, where children aged from two to six can find interactive classic fairy tales and children’s ebooks. Mindshapes envisage that the parents of children do not want to spend all day trawling the app stores and web looking for suitable and engaging stories for their children and by offering a one stop shop they will capture the growing market. They have got the support of publishers such as Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster and are reportedly in discussion with more. The Magic Town, will also be available on the iPad and is planning to operate on part free part subscription model with some 20 titles available free and subscription access to the full catalogue costing £7.99 a month, or £49.99 a year. They estimate that some 200 stories will be available on the platform in the first year.
Mindshapes was founded in 2010 and last year it raised £3.1m in a Series A funding to launch two destination hubs; Magic Town and Language City. Magic Town is accessible via an app and web browsers whilst Language City is browser only. The business model mix of free and subscription, is a logical and one that could resonate with busy parents who may be happy to subscribe to a single and  trusted service.

The challenges we see are not huge but are significant. The model is not one that is easy for publishers and especially ones which carry heavy development costs and hold potentially significant secondary rights. We are reminded of the Jesuit maxim, "Give me a child for his first seven years and I'll give you the man". The target age group is itself relatively small, some 3 years and where do their readers go then? Can they extend the offer or create a follow on offer as the children grow or that can be shared with their older siblings? Will the offer be extended to cover all books in the target age range or remain with just web and app offers and will that be enough to satisfy the needs of the parents? Finally will publishers embrace Mindshapes as just another digital ‘experiment’, or see it as a serious strategic channel and direction?   

We watch with interest at this venture into the world of Spotify for books.

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