Any parent reading this — not to mention any former child — understands the power that a personalized something can have for a child.
A London-based, Google Ventures-backed company has developed a mass-customized publishing system that takes that to the nth degree for children’s picture books. This week, the Lost My Name company is releasing its second personalized title, entitled The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home.
The first book, which was called The Little Boy/Girl Who Lost His/Her Name, was released almost two years ago, has sold over 700,000 copies in 158 countries, and was the top selling picture book in the U.K. last year. It follows the quest of a young child who needs to find his/her missing name. Along the way, there are encounters with such creatures as bears, unicorns, and mermaids, the exact lineup depending on the letters in the child’s name.
The company describes the newest title as “the most technically advanced picture book ever created,” a claim that is hard to verify but difficult to discount.
Like the first book, the new one generates a custom-printed, lavishly illustrated book personalized for a specific name and location. In the story, a child of the same gender as the owner gets lost in space with a robot friend, and their return trip home includes a spaceship adorned with an image of their country’s flag and a view of Earth from space that shows their home nation.
NASA images of the solar system are wrapped around the company’s own models of the planets to create a unique look. The pages show key landmarks from the child’s area as the flyby returns them to their home, utilizing satellite imagery along the way.
The name is spelled out in a page showing a star constellation built from thousands of stars, a construction that is unique to each child, even for those with the same name. Except for that feature, books for children with the same name are essentially the same. But, CEO and cofounder Asi Sharabi told me, the company makes sure there is enough differentiation between books that are scheduled to ship to the same address, since they most likely are intended for siblings.
The software engine can handle personalization in Spanish, German, and French in addition to English, and is designed to deliver unique story combos regardless of name length or spelling.
Sharabi said that he originally came to England from his native Israel to study for a PhD in social economics, in the hope of developing ways “for Israeli and Palestinian children to hate each other a little less.”
“I failed spectacularly,” he pointed out.
Nearly four years ago, when his daughter received a name-personalized book in Hebrew as a present, he was struck at how good the decades-old idea was — but how badly the poorly created book realized it.
“I was underwhelmed by the quality,” he recalled.
He recruited three others — tech expert Tal Oron, BBC TV comedy writer David Cadji-Newby, and illustrator Pedro Serapicos — to make personalized printed books fit for the age of on-demand, high-quality printing and database-driven publishing engines.
The book is initially launching in the U.S. and the U.K., employing thousands of local landmark images, but Sharabi said the company hopes to offer localized imagery for any child in any country in the near future.
A parent can see a generated preview of the book-to-be on the company’s website. A printed book costs $29.99, and the company reports there have been about 1,500 presales for the new title.
I asked Sharabi if he intends to use this powerful, customized publishing platform to help Israeli and Palestinian children “hate each other a little less.”
He told me he actually hadn’t thought of that.
“You’ve given me an interesting idea,” he said.