The Critical Juncture in Children's Mobile Media

If we as parents, educators and developers want to maintain quality children's educational apps, it's time to take a step back and reassess our expectations: $.99 is not sustainable.
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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 provides incentive for 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 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 game-play 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.

For further information and to read the Manifesto visit: Children's App Manifesto

Note: This piece was co-authored by Andy Russell, a toy and game producer and a co-founder of Launchpad Toys.

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