We are at a Critical Juncture in Children’s Media:

Given sophisticated new digital tools, increased investment in app development, and the near-ubiquity of mobile devices, educational software developers are creating more engaging and empowering content today than ever before. Mobile platforms like iOS and Android enable small developers to build groundbreaking games, toys, and tools for kids to play, learn, grow, and develop – all free from commercial branding and at minimal cost to parents (at least for software) – a rare “win, win, win” scenario.

If we as parents, educators and developers want to maintain this, however, it’s time to take a step back and reassess our expectations: $.99 is not sustainable. We’re paying $19.99 at Target for games and toys that cost us $1.99 in the App Store. While digital apps are certainly cheaper to distribute than boxed software, development costs for these increasingly complex products far exceed parents’ and education markets’ price expectations. Given their relatively small market, this tension is particularly acute for educational developers – a true shame considering the incredible potential for these platforms as learning and creation tools for kids. If we don’t commit to supporting great content, then we’re effectively resigning developers to cut costs through quality reduction or supplement revenue through commercial branding/advertisement.

Responsibility goes both ways, however. With the rapid emergence of these new revenue models comes great opportunity for exploitation. If parents are going to support great content, then developers must in turn avoid these temptations, hold themselves to the highest standards, and pledge to respect and uphold the sanctity of play and childhood.

Given this, we’ve compared the App Store’s five most common revenue models to determine which approach offers the most benefit to parents, kids, and developers alike.

Thankfully, supporting great apps doesn’t necessarily mean raising prices. The App Store model enables parents to purchase content at a low cost, evaluate it, and then (if worthy) invest further through in-app purchasing, subscriptions, and follow-on apps. Equally important, parents and educators can promote great content by leaving reviews and spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, and the sports sidelines. Gone are the (retail) days where one had to pay upfront for an unknown entity. Today, the App Store model offers us a content meritocracy… IF we step forward to collectively embrace, promote, and fund it.

There are merits to each approach, but our collective goal should be a sustainable, fair, and merit-based market where parents and educators can evaluate apps at a nominal fee while funding new development through additional purchases that expand the play experience. This encourages parents to take a chance on unknown brands and unique/innovative products, which is great for developers, the market, and ultimately kids. It also incentivizes developers to release regular updates/fixes and continue to improve the user experience.

To continue development of quality children’s apps, we need to embrace reasonable revenue models that are open, honest and upfront. We need for educators and parents to recognize that they are paying not just for an app, but for the development put into it and the innovation and new ideas that will follow it as apps of the future. By supporting an independent app industry, we are not just supporting developers, but maintaining a diversity of characters, stories, ideas and game types.

Everyone with a stake in the future of children’s media needs to commit to do their part. Parents need to support exceptional content by looking beyond $.99 apps, publishers need to keep their prices accessible, developers need to avoid the temptation of selling gameplay consumables, and investors need to maintain reasonable expectations for returns. In short, we all need to strike a balance between our respective interests and what’s best for the long-term viability of the market and for our children to play, learn, create, and grow (hint: it’s one and the same).

Today, we’re proud to unveil the Children’s App Manifesto: a call to action and a template for parents, teachers, publishers, developers, researchers, marketers, and investors to step forward and strike that balance. We welcome you to take a read and consider joining us in valuing play, valuing childhood, and helping to create a dynamic, purposeful, and sustainable world of mobile media for our children.

6 thoughts on “We are at a Critical Juncture in Children’s Media:

  1. I’d like to give a perspective from an assistive technology specialist working in special education. We purchase apps through the Apple’s VPP (Volume Purchase Program) available only to educational institutions. This ensures we are complying with licensing and gives us the ability to purchase at a significant discount in quantities of 20 or more from developers who offer it. The consumables, paid updates, subscriptions, and content expansion packs do not work well for educators and the constraints we have for purchasing apps. I look for quality apps by developers who offer a VPP discount on educational apps without hidden or future costs. It is my understanding we cannot use VPP voucher funds for consumables, updates, subscriptions or content expansion packs within the app. @ATtips

    • Thanks Kathy,

      I have also engaged with a range of services working with children with a disability looking at AAC devices and apps. I think educators and content providers would benefit from looking at and helping mature the VPP and exploring what different licensing and other approaches are possible. I know many schools that struggle with bulk purchase and downloads onto devices. This is an important part of the discussion and debate that needs to happen. Thanks for raising it.

  2. I appreciate the emphasis on kids as creators-too often in media, industry, and academia we consider their roles as performers/achievers and consumers. Their potential as makers is a refreshing consideration.

    • Thanks Emily. It is fundamental that mobile media be seen as a tool that facilitates children’s creativity and other 21st century skills. Children’s role as creators and producers of media and content is fundamental to their development considering the world they will inherit.

  3. Hi all, very excited about these developments, as I wholeheartedly agree they are far overdue and necessary. However, I will give you the feedback that our most major release with in-app content available for purchase gets ALOT of complaints- not for the content but the fact it must be purchased. We designed Eric Carle’s My Very First App to be an app where you get a taste of the books and matching games for $1.99 and if you like it, can expand your library. In stores each of these books are $8 each, so 99 cents for a title plus 2 matching games seemed like over-delivering to us, but public perception proved to be quite the opposite. Maybe it is the fact that it is an app for very young kids, but parents have complained about having to purchase anything beyond the initial price. This app has been out for a year, and while the in-app purchases sell fairly well, the complaints continue to mount. I’m not sure how we are going to change the overall perception of this business model, but I am definitely committed to doing so. However, we have steered away from this business model overall because of our negative experiences. I’d love to hear from others!

    • Hi Erin, thanks for the great feedback! I think a lot of us are receiving those types of complaints, which is why we wanted to launch this discussion. Parents, developers, publishers… we all need to come to agreement on a model that will satisfy everyone’s needs while still upholding and protecting the child’s experience. If we don’t get out ahead of this issue, I fear that the market will devolve into what we’ve seen in the web-based Flash Game market - games as subsidized marketing tools and loss-leaders for CPG brands. Would love to hear from others out there about their experiences with in-app purchases - especially parents!

      Thanks again, -Andy