A Vision of a Magic Book

Tom Conway, Digital Publishing Manager at HarperCollins, on the vision for the app:

In adapting Heart and the Bottle for iPad, we asked ourselves the question: “What would this book be like if it was MAGIC?” Here are a few of the things we came up with:

The images would move with your touch… flowers would grow wherever you touched the screen… it would snow when you shook the device, like an enchanted snow-globe…if you drew picture it would become part of the story…and you could turn day into night by swishing your finger across the screen…it would float in front of you, so you could read it in the bath without getting it wet…

OK, we stopped short of the last one.

We discussed who we’d like to read the book with the wonderful HarperCollinsAudio team, and they suggested Oscar-winning actress Helena Bonham-Carter. So, we took a deep breath and asked her. It turns out she’s a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers, and she said YES.

On the day of the recording, we took down a demo of the app to show Helena, which she loved. Cheekily, we asked her for a quote there and then, and she kindly let us film her reading the book. This footage then formed the basis of our promotional video, which has now garnered 60k + views on Youtube.

We learned a few things from this process:

The power and share-ability of video compelling video content. The Helena Bonham Carter video went viral thanks to Twitter and bloggers, because it was a piece of genuinely interesting content – it wasn’t just promotional. People were fascinated to see a) a shiny new storytelling concept, and b) a behind the scenes look at a high profile actress at work.

The importance of documenting the creative process, and carrying a camera with you to do this. It’s vitally important to be able to tell the story of your product to potential consumers of your app to get them interested. Getting exposure on the web is all about having something to show and share, and a tale to tell. To give yourself the best chance of being able to do this, record as much as you can. Things that may seem mundane at the time can have new resonance in the context of the final project.

The challenge with Heart and the Bottle for iPad was to temper the ‘bells-and-whistles’ to keep the story at the core. We wanted to deepen and enhance the story rather than distract from it. We think we’ve succeeded for the most part, but on reflection there are still tweaks we’d like to make. We learned a few important lessons:

An idea can seem like genius at the storyboard stage, but then not quite work when you see it in action in the context of the app. It’s vitally important to leave yourself the time and resources to test the app as a whole and make changes as necessary.

It’s easy to get distracted by the myriad possibilities offered by interactive platforms. Just because it’s possible to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Decide what your trying to achieve (tell a story? Play games? Entertain?), and stick to it. In the case of The Heart and the Bottle, the story needed to remain at the core of the experience.

An obvious one this, but so important: be acutely aware of your audience. Who is actually going to be using your app, and how? Something a 29 year old male finds cool isn’t necessarily going to appeal to a 5 year old, a fact that’s very easy to lose sight of.

The publishing team at HarperCollins are excited by the potential for storytelling through apps. We don’t think apps will replace books. We believe they will co-exist as a new way to experience a story.

We feel like we’re on the cusp of a storytelling change, and we can’t wait to see what the best storytelling minds concoct when the boundaries are no longer defined by the edge of the page, but by what they can imagine through vision, audio and touch.

A final note: Heart and the Bottle is not Oliver Jeffers’  bestselling or best-known book, it has quite a dark subject matter, and the app of lots of idiosyncratic interactive elements—but Apple, and consumers, really responded to it.  There are counter-intuitive elements about the app, but it’s really worked.

A sign that app publishing is unique in that it can defy formulas and set criteria — a bit like literary publishing?

Comment on this

“My 3 year old daughter loves my

iPad, and she’s going to love

this. It’s delicious!” -

Helena Bonham-Carter


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