I was recently invited to review a new app that should be near and dear to the hearts of many music educators, a series of iPad books about music and musicians called “Classical Kids.” The series involves award-winning books such as Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mr. Bach Comes to Call, and Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery (and other titles).
There are both student and teacher versions of the app. The teacher apps sells as a complete edition for $119.99, and you can also download just Beethoven Lives Upstairs for the teacher for $19.99, with the option to buy other books for $19.99 each. The student edition is orginally free, and then books may be purchased for $9.99 each. The teacher versions offer a metronome, printable quizzes, a recorder, and teacher’s notes (adding historical and social background to the app).
I was provided a download code for Beethoven Lives Upstairs, teacher edition. The book offers a background track which, I believe, are the same audio files you can purchase individually in the iTunes store for $9.99 each. While the audio book plays, static images (sometimes panned) show on the screen of the iPad. You can also choose to read the text of the narration while the audio plays. Considering that each mp3 album sells on iTunes for $9.99, Classical Kids for Students is a good deal. Not only do you get the audio for each book, you also get images and printed text. This is for a 45 minute audio book.
At the same time, interactive apps such as “A Monster at the End of This Book” have shown the level of interactivity that is possible with app-books for $3.99 or $4.99. I’m not saying that the award winning books by Susan Hammond aren’t worth $10, but I wonder if the average consumer will buy the book (student edition) for $10. iOS customers do purchase apps more often than Android customers (this is well documented, but I won’t go into that here), but a $10, $20, or $120 app is going to make iOS customers think twice. Additionally, a search in the Apple Education Volume License Store does not show that an educational discount is available for the app. So if a school would want to outfit both students and a teacher with the app, it would be cost prohibitive to do so.
I appreciate the teacher resources, which would make it much easier to imbed the app into instruction–particularly at this time of year when it can be hard to keep kids involved with a few days left of school (many schools across the country are out already). I hate to be negative, but the resources (both the background information and quizzes) seem to be embedded PDFs, and the quiz is mainly fill-in-the-blank/short answer which may be beyond the ability of many students in the target audience. As nice as the background information may be, I’m not sure that these resources justify the extra $10 per book over the student edition.
The content of the books is superb. The visuals just don’t take advantage of the interface of the iPad. At the very least, there should be an option to show the current spoken text on the screen, not just an option of picture or screen. I understand that the app is a better value than the current mp3 resources that are available in the iTunes on the same subject. I understand that these are award winning projects. I understand that these are long (45 minute) resources. I know that some teachers will buy them because they love these books. But I fear that the lack of interactivity of the app leads to a lesser product than it could or should be. I’m not the author or the publisher, but if this were my app, I would do a number of things:
- Redesign the app to make it more interactive. I’d hire Callaway based upon the work they’ve done with Grover, Thomas, and Miss Spider.
- Sell each book independently.
- Sell each book for $5.
- Offer the resources as a separate package of PDF files available via download–perferrably for free–from a website.
- Recreate tests so they match grade level ability, and perhaps make some extra activities, too (crossword puzzles, word searches, etc).
- I would consider offering schools a Educational Discount on the “student editions” of the books.
- And most importantly, I’d be aiming for a much larger audience. I don’t think these books should be geared mainly towards the music teacher or music student–they should be geared towards all students. If 1000 music educators buy the app, that’s a total income of $119,990 (not yet counting Apple’s 30% cut). If 10,000 music teachers buy the app, that’s a total income of $1,119,900. If 100,000 customers buy a single book for their children at $4.99, that’s a total income of $499,000. If 1,000,000 customers buy the book for their children at $4.99, that’s $4,990,000 total income. In other words, the lower price is justified by the larger market. There are over 75,000,000 iPads out there, and more iPads in schools daily. Market saturation HAS to be the goal.
- Make the app so good, and so interactive, that reading specialists throughout the country want it on student iPads everywhere.
In summary, the app is a great concept that doesn’t quite perform in the area of interactivity as you would wish on the iPad, and the teacher resources are probably not worth the premium that you pay for them. The app is probably misdirected as being mainly for music education, when the books themselves…reworked to be more interactive…should be for a much larger audience. Again, the written content of the books and the audio is top-notch. But the app just isn’t all that it could be.