That' a novel idea…

EA will release kids’ e-books range Flips for DS on December 4th. Tim Ingham catches up with UK boss Keith Ramsdale and head of EA Play Harvey Elliot…

Will you be taking Flips global?
Harvey Elliott: There are territory restrictions based on the publishing agreements we have with each of our partners. We’re specifically focusing this on the UK. A couple of other English-speaking territories are included, but we wanted to make the launch for this series UK-based. Literacy here is actually very high, and we feel that the UK is the right market for Flips. We compared UK and North America and found – to put it bluntly – that UK kids tend to be more advanced readers at this age group.

What would constitute success for you in terms of sales?
Keith Ramsdale: This is a completely new category for us. To predict where the sales level will be is actually quite tough. The only comparable product is Nintendo’s 100 Classic Book Collection, which has sold 150,000 to date. It’s not the most exciting product, but they’re relatively good numbers. I think we can do well against that. Fundamentally, if retail keeps these games on shelves and online retailers keep them on their front pages post-Christmas that will be a sure sign that we’ve got something.

Nintendo’s 100 Classic Book Collection, which is our only reference point, sold tens of thousands straight after Christmas [last year]. They’re averaging around 800 sales a week. I would like to think we can get into the Top 20 at Christmas time, which would be sales of – depending on how the market goes between now and then – between 2,000 and 5,000 units a week. That would be a very good place for us to be. We don’t need to sell those numbers to be a success – let’s be clear about that. If we fall below that, Flips is still a viable opportunity for EA.

Will these games end up in book retailers?

KR: That is the plan, yes. I don’t want to name anyone, but we think we’ll get this in the key book shops. We’re in negotiations with them currently.

Are you talking to other book publishers about similar deals?

HE: Right now, we’re very much focused on our partnerships with Egmont and Penguin. We researched with these guys pretty early on and found that we could do something different with this software. In the future, who knows, but this is what’s working for us so far. We’ve talked to a lot of people, but we’ve not gone into any progressed conversations.

What are your marketing plans?
KR: This won’t be a heavy media campaign. We’re actually going to follow the book model from the experts. There’ll be lots of PR, where women’s magazines will be very important to target parents. This is very much a retail-driven opportunity. The packaging echoes the front of the books. Each book contains six or eight titles. As you can imagine, that ranged together at retail is quite a powerful story.

If Flips is a success, would you introduce a more teenage range?
HE: Clearly this is a new area for us, and there are lots of opportunities it could open up. But the focus for us is to get this [initial line-up] to be a success.

KR: The challenge for any video games publisher when launching something brand new is to keep it simple. If you try to appeal to too many people too quickly, you’re just not effective.

What does this tell us about EA’s hope to avoid ‘me too’ product on DS and Wii?
KR: Where any publisher goes ‘me too’, they’re always going to struggle. Unless you’ve got a compelling point of difference, it’s going to be an uphill battle. If you look where EA’s successes so far in the Nintendo space have been – Littlest Pet Shop, EA Sports Active and more – whenever we’re first to market with an innovation, we perform really well.

That’s why we’ve got high hopes for Flips. 100 Classic Book Collection was already out there, and that may have produced a thought in Harvey’s head, but to all intents and purposes we’re the first to market with this idea.

HE: The Play label is encouraged to find opportunities like this exactly for the reason that Keith describes. A big part of our business is to find new things now. One great thing about being part of EA is trying new opportunities and going all guns blazing.

Why did you decide on a retail release rather than digital?
HE: The audience we want to go after put a lot of resonance on personal attachments. There are 9.6 million DS consoles in the UK; about half of those are in the hands of under-14s. There’s a lot of machines waiting for this range to be put into them.

KR: Also, retail is where the volume’s at right now, so that’s where we need to be.

Why did you choose DS over iPhone?

HE: We wanted to choose the right platform for the audience we were going after and that’s what we’ve done. If a platform fits what we’re trying to do we’ll look at it. That’s part of EA and our scale. Kids are playing DS right now.

KR: We did talk about having multiple offerings, but we decided to go with this market, test the concept, and take it from there.

Do you have any concerns that you won’t get the exposure at retail you’re after during the congested Christmas period?

KR: Are we going to get front of store and window promotion? No, but we’re not looking for that. We’re looking at calling out the right space and the right section and, touch wood, we’ll get that. The market is tough this year. We’re seeing polarisation, where FIFA sells extraordinary numbers, while major titles from other publishers that you would expect to do well – that are good quality – haven’t performed. In that space, there’s going to be a battle. What’s really interesting with Flips is that it’s a brand new innovation with a target [market] of its own.

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