Lynette Mattke may have conceptualized PicPocket Books only a year ago, but her pocket business is already growing into something grown-up size. Wanting to bring quality picture book literature to digital media, Lynette’s fabulous vision now allows children aged 2-8 to take their favorite picture books on the go—especially practical for travel, where it’s impractical to bring cumbersome and heavy books along. PicPocket now has 20 titles available on the Apple iTunes App Store, with four more coming soon. Lynette chatted with AWO about how she got this fab app off the ground.
Why did you start PicPocket? I wanted to offer educational and culturally valuable apps as one alternative to video games for kids. I am a big supporter of literacy and want kids and parents to have the option of having great books for kids (complete with pretty pictures) in their pocket whenever they are carrying a smartphone or iPod touch.
How long has it been in operation? I started PicPocket Books about a year ago. Our first couple of months were devoted to development, and we published our first title (My Friend Isabelle) to iTunes in July of 2009.
How many employees does it have? PicPocket Books has three partners and five employees. We also work with a number of voice over artists and graphic designers. Our apps have professionally produced audio narrations and interactive visual text.
What other career roles have you had? I have a background in teaching elementary school and special education.
What are your educational qualifications? I graduated from a small liberal arts college with a major in English Literature. A solid literary background is important for my work as a publisher at PicPocket Books. Also important are the viral marketing, social media and networking experience I’ve developed to launch and publicize PicPocket Books.
What kind of attributes do you need to create a ‘virtual’ business? I love running a virtual business. It is great that the global field is wide open in an online business like ours. We can literally reach a global market overnight. That is both a benefit and a challenge. It is exciting that the marketplace is nearly limitless, but that also means that it can be hard to get noticed as a start-up. It is not just like turning on a switch – you have to turn on the switch and then jump up and down like crazy and put out a lot of energy (or resources) into getting publicity!
Who have you relied on for help? Support and encouragement from my community of friends was important to me, especially in the very beginning. It was helpful to get initial feedback from friends before taking our product out to the general public.
What obstacles have you encountered? At first, we built our platform for publishing children’s books to the iPhone but we didn’t have a book to publish. I lost sleep at night worrying about how I would convince a publisher to sign a contact with us when I didn’t have a track record or any examples to show.
I put a lot of effort into describing the goal of PicPocket Books to publishers, and answered a lot of questions about licensing, royalties, production, and how I planned to market the apps. Finally, a publisher agreed to be the first. After that, it was like the flood gates opened, and a lot of publishers were interested in working with PicPocket Books. I regularly get inquiries now from publishers and authors.
Sometimes I encounter people who are skeptical about digital picture books. I have heard criticism that digital books are ‘cannibalizing’ the already struggling print book market. There is also the concern that kids in general need LESS screen time, not MORE.
As a supporter of literacy and a big fan of encouraging creative play for kids, I take these concerns seriously. I’ve been challenged to be very clear on our mission and to articulate my position on controversial topics like these. I explain that PicPocket books help children towards literacy because most kids are very curious about electronic gadgets. Why not capitalize on that fascination to grab their initial interest?
Whether we’re talking print or digital books, reading is an active mental process: something to encourage at every opportunity. Our apps offer a ‘learn-to-read’ feature where the text is highlighted as the word is spoken, encouraging the connection between the written and spoken word for emergent readers.
What has been your greatest reward? My greatest reward has been feedback from other parents and kids who love our books, as well as a huge feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment in knowing that I am constantly learning and growing through my work. Seeing sales of our apps rise is great, too!
What has been your biggest learning lesson? My biggest learning lesson has been that just having a product, no matter how good it is, isn’t enough. You have to put an effort into marketing and publicity just so people even realise that you’re out there!
What achievements has PicPocket enjoyed in the past year? In the space of under a year, we’ve gone from PicPocket Books being just a concept to our company offering the largest and most ‘literary’ selection of picture books available on the iPhone. We offer a wide range of content from established publishers, including previously published board books, concept books, easy readers, fairy tales, and other culturally diverse picture books.
Where is PicPocket now headed? I’d like to see PicPocket Books continue to grow and I’d like to expand our selection of titles to several hundred. I’d like to be a forerunner of the new wave of mobile digital books, and I look forward to the time when it is commonplace to reach for a mobile device not just for video games and movies––but for picture books, too.
Learn more about PicPocket at the website www.picpocketbooks.com.