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Meta Morfoss App wants to enthuse kids to read

Dresden. On November 30th Anna Burck and Nikolay Barabanov from the Dresden startup Daktylos Media released their interactive app for childrens books. The app is based on the story „Meta Morfoß“ by German writer Peter Hacks. Founderella.com spoke with Anna Burck about the app and the business strategy of Daktylos Media.

Nikolay Barabanov and Anna Burck founded Daktylos Media. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media
Nikolay Barabanov and Anna Burck founded Daktylos Media. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media

Founderella (F): You’ve developed a children’s book app based on the story “Meta Morfoss” by the German writer Peter Hacks. Why did you want to create a product for children?

Anna Burck, Daktylos Media (AB): Books and reading have always been very important to me — even as a child. And today I still very much like the world of children’s literature because in it important things about us and life are said and shown in a way that can often not be expressed in adult language because it would come across as too “naive”or direct.
We have children ourselves and we’ve observed over the years how excited they are by computers and mobile devices, and the countless playing opportunities these offer.

“We were interested in finding out how we could combine reading and playing in a digital format that made sense.”

In many of the book apps that we found in the online stores, interactive elements distract from the text and from reading — children expect cartoon effects that they trigger by tapping or swiping wildly but they’re not so interested in the story itself. We wanted to create a children’s product where the reading and text on the tablet remained interesting throughout. That’s how we invented a new book app format — the Daktylos reading quest.

“Peter Hacks’ Meta Morfoss is perfect for transforming into an interactive children’s book on a tablet because Meta’s metamorphoses can be depicted extremely well.”

The app wants to enthuse children to read. Photo: Daktylos Media
The app wants to enthuse children to read. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: How did this business idea come about?

AB: There are plenty of book apps where passages are read aloud, there are animated pictures and games, and these aim mainly at small children who cannot read.

“Our main target group is children who can read — from 8 to 12. There aren’t any German book apps for them.”

F: In your app, readers have to find keywords and when they tap them the pictures are animated. They then make their way through the story which was illustrated and animated by Russian illustrator and game designer Max Litvinov, aka KClogg. Is this a completely new concept?

AB: Reading quests are unique — there hasn’t been such an app before. As you said, users have to read the text attentively and find keywords. When they tap them, the illustrations are animated and they can continue making their way through the story.

“The idea came to me spontaneously as I was thinking about how children could become immersed at the same time in wonderful literature and an interactive game without one aspect distracting from the other.”

A screenshot from the app. Photo: Daktylos Media
A screenshot from the app. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: What do children like about the app?

AB: We read Meta Morfoss and other stories by Peter Hacks to our children a long time ago. They liked the imaginative twists and the the ironic and witty use of language in the text as much as we did. All children like the idea of a quest in which their efforts are “rewarded” by changes to the original, colorful illustrations and funny noises and sounds.
Of course, they want more, so they are compelled to work their way forwards through the story. Every page has a section of text which is not so difficult for children who don’t like reading that much or who don’t read very fast.
The first time we tested the app with eight and nine year olds, they totally got into the reading quest, laughing out loud when they saw the animations and heard the sounds. They kept their focus right to the end and enjoyed every minute. (It takes about 40 minutes to read and play through the app).
Most of them asked their parents to download the app immediately. That’s exactly what we were hoping for. We’ll be testing the app again at this year’s media festival in Dresden, so please come along and see for yourselves.

F: How long does it take to produce such an app? Did you have to pay license fees to use the text and the illustrations?

AB: Till now we’ve only made one app. Peter Hacks’ text already existed and so did the Russian translation. We commissioned an English translation, which took about two months, including the proofreading. We have to pay licensing fees for the three versions.

“We used the texts to write a kind of screenplay or storyboard as you would for a cartoon. Then we divided the text into 20 screens, picked out three keywords per screen, and described what illustrations would appear, as well as the sounds that would accompany the transformations.”

We needed about two weeks for this storyboard. KClogg did the illustrations and animations in about four months, after we had created each character in the story with him. On top of that, there was the work of the programmer and the UI/UX designer who worked alongside KClogg.

Colorful illustrations by Maxim Litvinov and funny noises and sounds complete the reading experience for the young readers. Photo: Daktylos Media
Colorful illustrations by Maxim Litvinov and funny noises and sounds complete the reading experience for the young readers. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: What are the staffing arrangements?

AB: Nick and I run the publishing side — both strategy and operations — from product conception to marketing and distribution. We work with freelancers for the programming, web design, graphic design, UI/UX design, sound design, editing and translation, illustration and animation.

F: How much did it cost to make the app?

AB: 20,000 euros in total.

F: Crowdfunding was part of your strategy. You were able to raise 16,000 euros via Startnext. Why did you choose this path?

“We tried to get a loan in the traditional way from a bank. Then we put our hopes on a business angel. But neither of these paths worked out.”

AB: We took out a private loan to buy an iPad and get some business coaching, so that we could fund a prototype with two screens. Then we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Startnext so that we could finish producing the app.
That was the only possibility for us at the time to get hold of any money. And because it was hard for us — a completely unknown startup company without a marketing budget to get public attention for a completely new product without help, we asked two consultants for advice — Fabian Kern from Digital Publishing Competence and Steffen Peschel from Konzeptfreun.de
They helped us a lot thanks to their network and professional strategic planning. Nonetheless, we were only able to raise the money we needed and wrap up the crowdfunding campaign by taking out another private loan. So finally we finished making the app. It turns out that our target group — parents with children of reading age — isn’t really into crowdfunding. They will buy a finished product but they don’t spend that much time online.

That’s how the app looks like. Photo: Daktylos Media
That’s how the app looks like. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: Would you recommend crowdfunding to other small startups?

AB: I would recommend crowdfunding to others if they have enough time, staff and financial resources for marketing and PR, and already have a fanbase.

F: You’re launching your Meta Morfoss app on November 30th. How much will it cost to download and will there be more stories in future?

AB: The app will be available for 5.99 euros in the App Store from December onwards and we’re releasing an Android version next year. Yes, of course we plan to release other reading quests in the future — combining good children’s literature with original illustrations and excellent design.

“If Meta Morfoss sells well, our next app should be out by the middle of next year.”

The main target group for the app are children from 8 to 12 who can read. Photo: Daktylos Media
The main target group for the app are children from 8 to 12 who can read. Photo: Daktylos Media

F: Lets talk about your business model. How are you hoping to generate revenue?

AB: Our business model is based on app sales, at a fixed price in the online stores. The app is trilingual — German, English and Russian. We’ll be selling it in the English-speaking world (US, UK, Australia etc) and the Russian-speaking world (Russia, Ukraine) as well as the German-speaking realm (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). But in the future we can envisage the freemium model for other purposes — you download one chapter for free but pay for the following ones.

F: What is Daktylos Media planning for the coming years? What are your main goals?

AB: We want to make more book apps — we’ve already got plenty of ideas for new formats. We’re also interested in different technical and distribution possibilities, aside from native app programming we’re seeking other solutions.

For their successful crowdfunding campaign Anna and Nikolay got nominated for the Virenschleuder-Preis 2014. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media
For their successful crowdfunding campaign Anna and Nikolay got nominated for the Virenschleuder-Preis 2014. Photo: Ellen Türke for Daktylos Media

F: How does it feel to be on the shortlist of the Virenschleuder-Preis 2014, although your app had not yet been released publicly?

AB: We’re super happy about that. All the efforts that we put into the crowdfunding campaign have been acknowledged. The nomination brought us a lot of positive attention. It’s a big motivation to continue regardless of the problems we have had as a startup without funds. We are very grateful to our fans and those who voted for us — for their faith in our project.

F: Thank you for the interview.

Interview: (c) Stephan Hoenigschmid. Published first at www.founderella.com, Nov 11, 2014. Slightly edited version, by courtesy of Founderella.com.

Our crowdfunding campaign was a great success!

opensourceway@flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 http://tr.im/5lnhs
opensourceway@flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Dear friends, lovers of literature and app fans: Our crowdfunding campaign for the Meta Morfoss App was a great success and we’re hoping to have the finished product available for you by December 2014. Follow us and keep up to date with our news, here in our blog, via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Preparing for Crowdfunding (Daktylos Media Bloopers)

In February 2014 we will launch a crowdfunding campaign on the German platform Startnext.de for our first Reading Quest: The Meta Morfoss App.

Now we’re preparing our pitch video in which we tell about us, our project and the rewards for our supporters. And here is a preliminary reward for you …

Our Startnext.de Pitch Video’s blooper bonustrack
Cameraman (most patient in the world): readymedia / Andreas Fertig

Cultural propaganda (#HerrMaffrodit)

Ruin is not caused by lavatories but is something that starts in people’s heads” says Professor Preobrazhensky so succinctly of social shocks and upheavals in Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog”. Today, Russian society is trying to create an identity by normalizing gender roles and sometimes finds a peg for this in the oddest of places. This does not only have to do with homosexuality.

What does this have to do with a children’s story from the GDR, with a story written by Peter Hacks 40 years ago? We’ve come to the conclusion that the subject of metamorphosis, or metamorphoses, can be widely interpreted. A detailed analysis would find that much of the world’s cultural heritage doesn’t tally with current perceptions of morality. What could be more amoral than the pagan “atrocities” of the ancient world? Not only were sexual relations in no way “traditional”, such aberrations took place then that today would make some people’s hair stand!

This is all being jumbled up in the minds of people who literally do not have the right classical education. Moreover, the new legislative initiatives, which were first taken on the banks of the Neva, are not helping matters. Indeed, they are leading to “ruin in people’s heads” – and especially those of young people who seem to be more open minded since there is little pre-programming.

Drawing of parts of the human brain by Leonardo da Vinci wikimedia commons
Drawing of parts of the human brain by Leonardo da Vinci wikimedia commons

We were also suddenly caught up by reality when we were setting out our budget – completely unexpectedly! We had started calculating and preparing documents so we could invite bids from Russian programmers (companies and freelancers). We wrote a storyboard for our Meta Morfoss app to help prospective bidders understand better. We set out the whole story page by page, describing and naming all the scenes and characters in detail.

In the story, the main character – a girl called Meta – has an aunt called Maffrodit. She has a mustache and likes to knit. Although, we should have seen it coming, we had a bit of fun and talked about Hacks’ intelligent playful approach to meanings and his imagination. We sent out five requests for offers and waited. It didn’t take long: “Hello Nick! We’ve read everything. We’re completely against hermaphrodites any anything of the like. Nobody in the team wants to have anything to do with the project.”

Mosaic of Hermaphroditus, North Africa, Roman period, 2nd-3rd century AD wikimedia commons
Mosaic of Hermaphroditus, North Africa, Roman period, 2nd-3rd century AD wikimedia commons

What terrible fate would have befallen the app programmers from Petersburg  if Hermes and Aphrodite had known that they would be against their son?

There are many such “experts” when it comes to ancient mythology in Russia.

Can it really be that an interactive book about Meta Morfoss, who can transform herself into anything at all, might be considered reprehensible?