Kids’ App Marketing: The Double-edged Sword of the App Store Kids’ Category

It’s three months since I launched Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep interactive storybook app for iPad and I still feel somewhat of an intruder into a world that I don’t quite know enough about. However I thought I’d share here my initial marketing experiences and my thoughts on the App Store Kids’ Category.

Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep marketing update

As I mentioned in my earlier post Creating a Children’s Book App, Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep had over 1,500 downloads when I set it at free during its two-week launch period in mid October.

Since going to paid (at £1.49/$1.99) and at the time of writing it averages 12 downloads a week with mini spikes on odd days. I have no idea whether this is terrible, or simply average for an independently produced children’s book app as I’m not aware of app developers openly sharing stats – however I can hardly claim that the volume downloads are great! Nevertheless I’m pleased at the consistency of downloads – and at the very favourable feedback the app has received for being both educational and fun, and an app that parents can explore together with little ones in the way they might a print picture book.

At the time of writing it has garnered 18 customer reviews between the US, UK, Australia and Croatia (most 5-Star) as well as fantastic feedback from educational app review sites. You can download it onto your iPad or take a closer look here. If you’ve young children I can promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Download Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep interactive iPad kids book app from the App Store 

The clock strikes three - image from Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep app

Jump-starting my app marketing via review sites

Given that app discoverability via the App Store is so problematic (on which more below) it was vital to give parents and teachers ways to find out about Ferdinand Fox by other means – and to have endorsements to link to in social media posts. I therefore paid small fees (ranging from as little as $15 to one at a slightly hefty $65) to receive expedited reviews on the educational review sites below. Paying for reviews goes against all of my gut instinct principles (I’ve never paid for a review for any of my children’s books), however having done my research, the alternative as far as I could work out, was to wait six months to a year for a ‘free’ review, and possibly never hear back at all owing to the sheer volume of apps being submitted! (Expedited reviews tend to be actioned within a couple of weeks.)

Note that paying for an expedited review does not guarantee a good review. The app must stand on its own merits and these sites make it clear that if your app doesn’t merit three (or often four) stars or more, or the equivalent where they don’t rate by stars,  then they won’t post a review at all and instead will give you feedback as to why they feel it doesn’t work. These sites would quickly lose credibility if they swapped dollars for stars, after all they then go on to endorse your app by including it in their listing. You can find my reviews here:

As well as contacting the sites above I’ve also submitted Ferdinand for ‘free’ reviews to many more – including the highly respected SmartApps4Kids, whose $125 fee I unfortunately couldn’t stretch to. I’ll certainly report back on how long it took for a free review to materialise if ever one does!

Moms with Apps seal of approval 🙂

Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep has recently been accepted into the Moms With Apps program, which aims to help parents pick out quality apps that are safe and suitable for children to use alone – ie no advertising, no hidden surprises and no data collection. I’ll shortly be adding the Moms With Apps logo to my website and other marketing material.

KWI-Logo-Extended-Web

Discoverability in the App Store: that double-edged sword

Ok – so I am now confident about my app’s quality and suitability for its target market of kids age 2-5 years but what about discoverability in the App Store?

Well, therein lies a challenge – and one that ironically is made more difficult by the double-edged sword that is the relatively new App Store’s Kid’s Category.

Why the announcement of the Kids’ Category was such good news

I was delighted to discover that my app would be coming out just after the launch of the App Store’s Kids’ Category last September. This was music to my ears as I’d already discovered how confusing it was to navigate the App Store looking for kids’ apps – and book apps in particular. I am pretty web savvy and so I knew that if I was having trouble finding my way around, then other parents most likely would too.

Kids Category Home Page

Kids’ Category Home Page

Here are the main issues I’d found trying to browse for kids’ apps – especially kids’ book apps –  within the main App Store (not the Kids’ Category). These problems persist today:

  • First, within each main browsing category (books, games, education and so on) the App Store mixes together apps for different target audiences – so in the ‘Books’ app section, for example, you’ll find kids’ books as well as adult reference book apps and so on.
  • Second – to add to the confusion the App Store ‘Books’ category includes not just books (as in book apps) for all age groups including adults but also apps for reading books (such as the Kindle or Kobo reading app).
  • Third it’s not that easy to spot where to browse for book apps. This category isn’t featured as a collection on the App Store home page – rather is only found under a drop-down menu.

This is clearly all very complicated and messy for busy parents to fathom, so the idea of a dedicated Kids’ Apps Category where my app could live really was timely and most welcome.

Qualifying rules for the App Store Kids’ Category

In order to qualify for inclusion in the Kids’ Category children’s apps must meet certain stringent criteria – including:

  • no advertisements
  • a ‘parental gate’ page – to prevent little ones inadvertently accessing social media sharing or in-app purchase links if there are any
  • a clear Privacy Statement and a promise not to collect and share data about the user or their behaviour
  • links to an app support page

This was all excellent and sensible news as far as I was concerned and happily Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep passes muster on all counts so at upload was accepted and tagged in the App Store as ‘Made for Ages 0-5’ and therefore qualifies for the Kids’ Category.

Screenshot 2014-02-16 15.00.26So why can’t you find Ferdinand Fox in the Kids’ Category?

The bad news, however, is that Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep app – like many other qualifying Kids’ Category apps – is not listed there because it turns out that this area only includes a small number of apps chosen by their editors. As I write there are just 18 iPad apps included in the Kids’ Category section ‘Made for ages 5 and under’ in the UK App Store. Clearly Ferdinand has no hope of being discovered by parents or children browsing there!

Now, whilst I fully support the idea of content curation and Editors’ Picks it seems pretty clear to me that now the Kids’ Category exists and is promoted on the App Store home page most parents and children will gravitate there direct, unaware that they can find equally suitable and safe kids’ apps outside that category too. This feels a bit like Amazon only including selected children’s books within the browsable Children’s Book section of their site!

I have asked Apple for clarification on Kids’ Category inclusion – and on whether they are planning to expand it – but they are unable to tell me anything beyond stating that inclusion there is up to their editorial team.

The case for an all-inclusive version of the Kids’ Category

I am sure I’m not the only developer feeling frustrated by this situation and think that it would be for everyone’s benefit if the App Store could take steps to make things (a) clearer for parents and (b) more helpful for developers by doing these three things:

  • First, plan to include all qualifying apps (see list earlier) in an all-inclusive Kids’ Category and then present Editor’s Picks within each kids’ sub-category (books, games, education etc).  This will:
    • give parents and children more choice when browsing inside the Kids’ Category
    • put all qualifying apps on a level playing field for discoverability by their target audience
    • result in true user-generated popularity lists within the Kids’ Category based on the full selection rather than based on the current limited section
    • maintain Editors’ current ability to feature and promote the kids’ apps they consider to be most notable
  • Second, until an all-inclusive Kids’ Category can be established, make it clearer through signposting that the present Kids’ Category only offers a small percentage of all available ‘safe’ and ad-free children’s apps. While there is an information section about curation of the Kids’ Category, the reality of how we behave online is that this is unlikely to be read by most parents. For those who do take the time to read the small print here, it is very easy to interpret that the Kids’ Category is the only place you will find apps that meet their additional rules.
  • Third, until such time as the above points can be addressed (I hope they can – but I appreciate this will take time) give developers more information about the basis on which Kids’ Category selections are made. I presume there must be a defining list of attributes for each sub-category (books, games, education etc), which editors are looking for as a minimum – and it would be helpful to know what these are to increase the chances of selection. Clearly any such attributes would stay true for ‘Editors’ Picks’ within an all-inclusive version of the Kids’ Category, so communicating this information would have long-term use, and may indeed drive up standards.

In short, more open communication with both parents and developers would be very welcome. Without it the present Kids’ Category appears to offers a self-fulfilling prophecy for apps that are selected, while there seems no way for potentially deserving apps to rise to the surface in the rankings on their own merit through exposure in that area.

I’d love to hear feedback from Apple on this! So would, I am sure, many of the developers with existing apps who went to the trouble of re-releasing them in order to comply with the new Kids’ Category rules and find themselves in the same situation.

Where would that leave non-qualifying Kids’ Category apps?

I’d be inclined to stick my neck out here and say that I don’t see any circumstance in which apps aimed at young children should ever include advertising. Nor should they ever include links to in-app purchases or social media sharing buttons, unless these sit behind a parental gate. On that basis I’d argue that any apps that choose not to update to meet the App Store Kid’s Category criteria should remain outside of it – and suffer the discoverability consequences.

 A note to App Store Kids’ Category editors in case you drop by!

Are you able to share more information on your plans for the Kids’ Category going forward? Would you consider including all qualifying apps within it, at the same time as moving your curated apps into an Editors’ Picks section?

I have exchanged emails on this topic with one of your support team in the past couple of months, but haven’t been able to find out more, nor to elicit a response from your team direct.  You can use the Contact button above or please leave a comment below.  I very much look forward to hearing!

How to find Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep in the App Store

For now, the easiest way is to enter ‘Ferdinand Fox’ in the search box on the App Store – or you can download the Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep app using this link (it will forward to your country’s App Store). The cost is less than a cup of coffee and I promise that you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for an fun and educational interactive storybook for your 2-5 year-old. Please do tell your friends and take the time to leave a review 🙂

I should add that the app is currently listed in iTunes under ‘What’s Hot’ under iPad > Books – however this ‘What’s Hot’ section doesn’t seem to appear on my iPad, which I think is where most parents would be browsing from. If I’m missing it please do tell me how to find it on my iPad!

A belated Happy New Year all!

I’ll be at the London Book Fair this year along with several other members of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Do get in touch if any of you will be there!

Karen

PS Apologies if you receive this twice – I posted it in the wrong place first time around.

About kareninglis

Writer of children's fiction. Copywriter and web content strategist.
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18 Responses to Kids’ App Marketing: The Double-edged Sword of the App Store Kids’ Category

  1. Nicola Young says:

    Based on this experience, would you do it again?

  2. kareninglis says:

    Hi Nicola – creating the app was probably only ever going to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience due to the production cost. But at the outset I said that was my indulgence and have no regrets *at all* – especially in the light of the fantastic feedback it has received and the regular (if low volume) downloads. In fact The Secret Lake started out at these levels on Kindle and has now sold over 3,000 copies in that format alone as well as over 2,200 in print – so it’s all very long tail….

    The discoverability issue for app developers is well known and I am by no means alone. The hiccup with the Kids’ Category is just a frustration that one could do without. A further challenge is that so many people expect to get apps for free…not helped by the endless free app promotions. This is something that I shan’t be revisiting. If I knew how to code I’m sure I would be up for creating more apps if I could find the time. Oh and I shall be bringing out a colouring book version of the app in due course – thanks to the generosity of my developer. (We are gluttons for punishment!)

  3. Great article, as a reviewer I wasn’t aware that these issues with the Kids category were still happening. I just came across an app approved for the Kids category which I don’t consider “family friendly” due to the fact there were numerous -albeit protected – Facebook links within the main part of the app to bribe parents into sharing for content. This feels wrong.

    Secondly, a single app is difficult to gain and sustain momentum. You really should aim for a series where you can cross promote. I think Ferdinand is a good candidate for this.

    Lastly, it is incredibly rare – I can’t think of a single instance – where a single app has turned into blockbuster without a lot of time and effort being spent. Angry Birds was Rovio’s 40th app – yes, incredibly successful, but a lot of time, money, experience and disappointment paved the way for that app.

    I wish you and Ferdinand the best – and hope you can stay in the app world to play some more.

    Lesley Taylor
    Founder, BestAppsForKids.com

    • kareninglis says:

      Thank for the feedback (and encouragement!), Lesley. Oh that I were an illustrator and a coder! I have five more Ferdinand Fox’ stories all written and ready to go… but production costs, as I’m sure you know, don’t come cheap! That said there is software under development aimed at helping authors produce bookapps without understanding code – and indeed Authorly is currently working on a version of Ferdinand for me to show me what they can do. So who knows!

      Whilst here I’d like to compliment you on the BestAppsForKids.com web design – in fact I did have a paragraph commenting on this in the above post but cut it as the post was getting too long. I was going to make the point that creating an ‘all inclusive’ Kids’ Category shouldn’t be that difficult – and that the App Store could learn a lot about good information architecture for children’s book apps by looking at sites such as yours, which organise the content in an intuitive and customer-focused way. I think I tweeted about your site’s logical IA once! (I have an interest in this type of thing from my day job work…) Keep up the good work 🙂

  4. Tiffany says:

    As someone who’s just getting into the book app world I feel I have to share something that might make you want to give it another go! I’m a designer with a working knowledge of coding but by no means a programmer. There is absolutely no way I would ever have the skill to build an app natively with code. Instead I found a way to build it on my own that produces code if I should choose to work with a programmer at a later day but does not require me to create any code myself. If you use Photoshop at all and are using at least version 5.5 you can purchase a plugin named Kwik. It is part of a yearly subscription but for $250/year I think its worth it. The company is Kwiksher.com and it is amazing what you are capable of doing with this plugin. I’m finishing up my first app and it has the option to publish for both iOS and Android as well as Nook and Kindle. While it’s not a free option it is more of a DIY which saves thousands of dollars a year in overhead costs. Hope you’ll take a look and it is helpful!

    • kareninglis says:

      Ah – thanks for the tip, Tiffany 🙂 I have a very old version of Photoshop but it’s been on my mind to upgrade at some stage. I’ll go and have a look to see if there’s a free demo… Thanks for the heads up and best of luck when you app launches. Let me know and I’ll take a look 🙂

  5. Sue Moseley says:

    I haven’t launched a children’s book app yet, but do intend to. It seems to me that to be a success in this market everything hinges on being able to get your app noticed in the app stores. With this in mind I have been looking into ways to increase visibility and yesterday I came across something called appbackr. The idea seems to be that you sell a certain number of copies of your book app at a discounted price to distributors who then market your app for you. It seems like quite a good idea to me, but I don’t know if they have done this for children’s book apps. It is worth taking a look anyway. This link will take you to a YouTube video explaining what appbackr does: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRJCTWDUQLs

    If you do try this I’d be really interested to hear how it goes as I am thinking of using this myself.

  6. kareninglis says:

    Thanks for this link Sue

    I must say that I’m wary of handing over any money to anyone to sell my app for me but I’ll take a more detailed look and report back one I understand more. It’s late here so that may be tomorrow!

    Thanks again!

    Karen

    • Sue Moseley says:

      You don’t hand over any money upfront – just a portion of the profits as they sell, and you get to define how many copies of the app that applies to – like the first hundred or so, after that you revert to selling the app as normal. My thinking is, if you get backers who will promote your app you could get a sudden rush of sales that will mean your app makes it to the front page of iTunes – just an idea – might not happen.

      • kareninglis says:

        Ah – thanks for that clarification, Sue – when I looked quickly it was asking for credit card details and asking for a $100 credit line or similar. But I clearly need to go and read the small print. I will certainly do that – thanks for pointing it up and I’ll leave another note here once I’ve had a better look.

  7. amandadawnclothier says:

    Well done for venturing forth into unknown territory! I am not at all tech savvy and have tried out Photoshop with zero to show for it. I think apps and interactive books are the future for kids educational reading and it is scary that I know so little about it. Your post and the comments other readers have made have convinced me to invest some serious time in learning to use Photoshop.

  8. kareninglis says:

    Hi Amanda – you don’t necessarily need to know Photoshop – albeit I’ve just been reading about a Photoshop plug-in that will help authors create apps without code. Check out my twitter feed and the #storyappchat thread… I used a coder and supplied the images and recordings (I did the latter myself and my illustrator supplied the drawings, of course). However as you will see from the thread there are progams available that require little or no coding experience – and these don’t usually require Photoshop either. All the best if you do have a go!

  9. trevH says:

    Hello
    Did you write your own app? How easy is that?

    • kareninglis says:

      Hi if you read my post ‘Creating a children’s book app’ (follow the link at the top of my post here – or choose the link in the menu bar at the top of the page) you will see how I went about this. In short I outsourced the coding. But there are certain programs that allow users who don’t know how to code to create apps – if you look at my twitter feed you will see that earlier today I posted a link to #storyappchat which covered this. (If you go to the Interviews page above there is also an interview with me on creating the book app – skip to 33 mins.)

      Hope this helps.

      • Trev says:

        Thanks for the detailed reply. I just have to think of an application now!
        Congratulations on your ingenuity.

      • kareninglis says:

        Many thanks – please do take the time to download and rate the app if you have an iPad – well worth less than a the price of a cup of coffee & you’ll get an idea of how much work is involved 🙂

  10. Both my apps were approved for the 6-8 year section of the kids category and not once have they been featured in it. We need to find a way to make Apple sit up and take notice – maybe it is that they don’t care if we make $$ or not. They’re making tons just from annual fees of all the indie authors and developers so it doesn’t affect their bottom line whether we make a return on investment or not. Forming a unified front, creating a joint statement and bombarding them with e-mails might just be the next step.

  11. I can fully recommend Authorly if you are a writer,illustrator or animator like me. They make the whole process of creating an app so simple and effective. You can check out the two I’ve just completed with them at the following link :-
    http://www.graber-miller.com/Quizicatapps.html

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