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.
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:
- Review from BestAppsforKids.com
- Review from Fun Educational Apps
- BestAppsForKids.org review
- Review from Fun2Tap
- Gungroo.com review
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.
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.
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.
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!
PS Apologies if you receive this twice – I posted it in the wrong place first time around.