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JibJab's StoryBots will hook kids and their parents too

StoryBots

2004 was the year the iPod Mini made its debut, along with the 4th generation iPod and iPod Photo. Apple sold its 200 millionth song through the iTunes Store, and the iMac G5 was introduced. Macs were running OS X Panther.

And in July 2004, leading up to the presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry, the Flash-based parody "This Land" burst onto the scene. Viewed on every continent, the video went viral -- a major feat in the days before YouTube was founded.

While JibJab was initially known for its e-cards and parodies, it is now better known for its iOS products. In 2011, the company entered the kids' market with StoryBots, a line of apps geared toward young children and the parents who play the games alongside them.

Gregg Spiridellis, who created JibJab in 1999 with brother Evan, spoke with TUAW about StoryBots after his visit to Toy Fair 2014.

The first product from the StoryBots line was a kids book that personalized the experience by adding the child's photo so they could be the lead character. From that single app, StoryBots has grown into a subscription play service that has 13 iOS apps and nearly 200 videos, stories and activities for kids ages two to eight. The latest app is Math Racer, which utilizes math to help kids speed down the race track and win the game.

Each app can be customized with photos of your child or a favorite family member. When a character is created, it can be synced across any of the StoryBots apps with no setup needed. While the customization is one of the draws of StoryBots, it's the engaging content and the earworm-worthy songs that have earned the service thousands of fans.

"When we started JibJab, my brother and I were making ourselves laugh. We were blown away by how in-depth [our kids] were at physical and phone technology," Spiridellis said. "We want to take that JibJab fun ... and bring that into the pre-K and kindergarten world."

Taking a different approach to the typical app business model, JibJab eschewed in-app purchases in favor of a monthly subscription. For $4.99 a month, all of the apps in the StoryBots arsenal can be unlocked. The apps can be downloaded for free, and there is sample content in them to test them out if you don't have a subscription. The music videos can also be seen on YouTube.

It's a model that works for JibJab. Spiridellis said that as of 2013, the StoryBots apps were downloaded more than a million downloads and there were more than 500,000 registered members. StoryBots YouTube videos have racked up more than 30 million views.

Spiridellis said his favorite complement he received about StoryBots is a parent telling him that she grew addicted to the ABC videos, playing them for her kids on the way the school and then she kept playing it after dropping them off. Typical entertainment for children is very saccharine and sweet, Spiridellis said, and engagement with parents is key when developing material for StoryBots.

"At the end of the day, the parent is the customer," he said. "When you're a parent, you're curating what your kids are engaging with."

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