Five minutes with…The Story Mouse

Today I’ve got something a little different for you. Usually I feature mums who start their own businesses, but in this post I’ve interviewed Alan Smith of The Story Mouse.

Alan’s business works with creative mums who work from home, which is my first reason for the interview! Alan also gives us some tips on running a business that involves both writing/illustrating children’s books and developing iPhone apps, which are ideas that I know some Business Plus Baby readers are thinking of exploring.

Over to Alan..

  • Please could you tell us a little about your business?

At The Story Mouse we love telling stories! So all our efforts go into creating interactive read-along storybook apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. In the main, the titles we publish are those we all grew up with from Jack & the Beanstalk to Goldilocks & the Three Bears; from The Gingerbread Man to The Three Little Pigs. These stories have stood the test of time for a reason – simply because they’re great tales which children love!

All our books operate in a choice of modes: “Read it to me” (where the pages turn automatically and the voice reads the story), or “Read it myself’ (where the voice is turned off and the child advances the pages at their own pace, effectively turning the app into a normal book). The feedback we’ve had from parents suggests this choice of modes is very popular – the former familiarises the child with the story and the latter enables them to read it for themselves, giving tremendous confidence to a young reader.

Our main Talking Books app comes with a free story too, so you can try what we have to offer without spending a single penny!

Additionally, we licence our stories to 3rd parties – if you fly long-haul on most British Airways routes you’ll find The Story Mouse in the in-flight entertainment menu (mice can fly too!).

  • What did you do before starting The Story Mouse?

The two people who run the business are from media and technology backgrounds. Alan has spent 20 years in broadcasting – he deals with all the content and co-ordination of authors’ and illustrators’ work; Philippe has a background in data management and computer programming – he deals with all the technical stuff!

  • What particularly interested me about your business is the the way your writers and illustrators are mums working from home. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

The people without whom The Story Mouse wouldn’t exist are our authors and illustrators. They are based in all corners of the UK and work from home, sending their work via the internet to be compiled into the finished apps.

It works like this: We contact our illustrators to tell them about the next 2 or 3 titles we’re looking to publish. They then decide which story they’re most drawn to (this really brings out the fun in the illustrations because we find our illustrators come to love the characters they create!). For a 10 minute story we’d normally ask for around 20 illustrations and when these are done they’re sent to Philippe who does a bit of technical wizzardry to put them into the format Apple likes. They’re then sent to Alan who compiles the app, matching the audio with the pictures. The finished app is then submitted to Apple for their approval and a few days later it appears around the world on the App Store!

The illustrators and authors receive a monthly share of the sales based on a percentage of the revenue earned from each story. All the contributors have access to the sales figures on a daily basis so they can see how many of their stories have been sold and in which countries.

The advantages of working this way are numerous! First it means the illustrators can work at their own pace. Working from home fits in with their lifestyles too – several of our illustrators are busy mums and being creative when it suits them gives maximum flexibility. Also, it’s great that through The Story Mouse talents which might otherwise go unnoticed are finding an audience.

One of our authors, Helen Aitken has a 4 year old daughter. Helen came to us with an idea for a completely new character, Bertie the Guinea Pig. It would be an extremely tall order for an established paper-and-ink publisher to take a risk on a set of stories which are completely untested, but we saw the potential in Helen’s work so we commissioned an illustrator to work with her and now there are 4 Bertie stories available in just about every country in the world!

  • I come across quite a few mums who are aspiring writers and phone app developers (although not usually both at the same time!) what would your advice to them be?

I’d say if you have a good idea, give it a go! Make sure you test the idea thoroughly on friends and family who will give you an honest answer. Although the barriers to entry in online publishing are low compared with traditional paper-and-ink publishing, there are still costs involved. We are lucky at The Story Mouse in that the 2 people who run the business possess the skills necessary to get the idea off the ground – technical development and content are the biggest cost areas.

  • Which marketing methods have been most successful for you?

We have an active Facebook page and Twitter feed. This allows us to communicate to several hundred of our customers, but the biggest influence is the App Store itself. We have been delighted to be featured in their “New and Noteworthy” section several times – this gives us Apple’s “stamp of approval” which customers like!

  • What’s been your biggest challenge?

The sheer amount of hard work that’s gone into creating the stories! When we look back nearly 2 years to the day we decided to make our first books, an enormous amount of work has taken place. Since then we’ve expanded the catalogue, introduced animation into some titles and launched a character unique to us, Bertie the Guinea Pig.

Looking forward we’ll be adding many new stories and we are at the early stages of developing a series of educational apps which will make spelling and maths fun!

There’s more info at

You can see us on the App Store here:

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