The following article was written in partnership with Dan Donahoo of Wired’s GeekDad.com and appears in the Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop’s iLearn Report, released 1/12/12.
Today’s mobile platforms enable developers to create more engaging and empowering content than ever before – groundbreaking games, toys, and tools for kids to play, learn, grow, and develop. In order to achieve the great potential of this market, however, it’s time for parents, educators, and developers to collectively reassess our pricing model: an expected price point of $.99 is not sustainable.
A “Top 50” Education app might have 100-200 downloads a day. Through regular updates, good social media support, and a strong fan base, a great app might hope to stay in the Top 50 for six months to a year. At $.99, that translates to $12K-$50K in revenue (revenue after 30% platform margin). With annual development/support costs ranging from $20K-$200K+, we’re quickly approaching a critical juncture in children’s media. We can (a) increase revenue, (b) consolidate, (c) reduce quality/depth/cost, or (d) supplement income through advertising and commercial branding.
If parents, educators, and developers truly value high-quality commercial-free educational content, then we must work together to identify and embrace a new pricing model that will sustain a diversity of developers to build innovative and creative content for our children. The simple answer would be to raise prices, but that’s shortsighted as upfront fees can inhibit parents from taking chances on original content and lead to more traditional licensing and advertising-driven markets like those of the toy and video game industries.
The ideal market would be a content meritocracy where apps are valued for engagement, fun, and learning over packaging, licensing, and advertising. One way to achieve this is to shift the “point-of-purchase” to inside the app, creating what is effectively a free/low-‐cost trial for parents and educators. In-app-purchase (IAP) has received a bad rap in children’s media due largely to the irresponsible practices of certain developers selling “Pay-to-Play” consumables as if the tablet were a quarter-gobbling arcade machine. This not only exploits and commercializes play, but can also lead to astronomical “gotcha” charges reminiscent of the early days of teenage texting.
IAP subscriptions and “Content Expansion Packs” (add-on levels, stories, songs, etc.) offer a great alternative. Parents and educators can purchase apps at a nominal fee, evaluate them, and then (if worthy) invest further to expand the play experience much like they might buy a new LEGO playset. This encourages parents and educators to take a chance on unknown brands and test unique and innovative products-great for developers, the market, and ultimately kids. It also incentivizes developers to release regular updates and Jixes to improve the user experience over time. With this in mind, we’ve outlined best practices for all parties to embrace this new model and foster a dynamic, purposeful, and sustainable world of mobile media for our children.
Parents/Educators: Commit to Supporting Excellence and Diversity in Children’s Media
1. Invest in subscriptions and expansion packs for your favorite apps to expand the play experience
2. Look beyond the “Top 10” to find innovative and unknown content on mommy blogs and app review sites
3. Promote great content by writing reviews, sharing apps with friends, and posting comments via social media
4. Write to developers to offer feedback and suggestions for future apps/updates
Developers: Respect the Sanctity of Childhood and Play
5. Price apps accessibly for parents/educators to easily evaluate
6. Offer high-value expansion packs that expand the play experience instead of “pay to play” consumables
7. Do not disguise costs or manipulate children’s emotions to entice spending
8. Strive for continuous improvement: Engage educators and child development experts, test your app regularly with kids throughout development, and commit to continuously improving your apps over their lifetimes
By adopting these practices, we lay the groundwork not just for a sustainable children’s media market, but for a new generation of games, toys, and tools with unprecedented potential to empower kids to play, learn, laugh, create, grow, and explore – both indoors and outdoors, in school and at home, independently and collaboratively with friends, educators, and family. Digital play spaces should inspire and enable children to do what they do best: be children… with touchscreens at their fingertips and mud between their toes. For the first time in history, we have the tools to actually realize this potential; all that’s left is to fund it.