The collaboration between plush toy manufacturer Animal Magic and California-based interactive media publisher Fat Red Couch, Inc. (FRC) has many in both industries puzzled and intrigued. But with FRC already working with Alex Beard (Tales from the Watering Hole), Marsha Diane Arnold (Prancing, Dancing Lily), and Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton (Puff, the Magic Dragon), it makes sense for CEO Nicole Lundeen to take it a step further into plush toys or, as she calls it, durable products.

PW talks to Lundeen for more insight into the FRC/Animal Magic collaboration, her company’s products and her approach in linking apps to durable products.

How does the Animal Magic collaboration work?

Today, there are technologies that can be integrated with toys to create exciting and wonderfully engaging new interactive and interdependent experience for a brand or product. In fact, FatRedCouch is already working on stories in a book, TV or film format that have toys, or with publishers or producers of these formats who want to develop toys from the stories. Our partnership with Animal Magic will offer parents and children a 360-degree experience in both the digital and durable product worlds, thereby encouraging brand engagement, cross-marketing and cross-selling. It’s going to be a “magical” partnership.

Isn’t it a pity that kids would rather play computer games and download apps than play with good old toys and traditional games?

Yes and no. Yes to games that are violent and the lack of parental guidance to help kids manage play time and learning time. No because now with tablets, kids have fewer heavy books to carry to school, great ways to submit homework online and the interactivity to encourage more self-learning. Tablets, being intuitive and interactive, are changing brain patterns and in some cases speeding up learning, at a faster pace and at early ages. There are some fascinating stories about tablets and apps unlocking communication in autistic children, for instance. But, in general, tablets and apps are no substitutes for getting outside and running around. At FRC, we are working to remedy the situation of mobile apps taking away toy sales, and we do this by integrating digital and durable products.

Is Alex Beard’s Tales from the Watering Hole your first project?

Actually, we have three storybook apps before Alex’s, but his was our first MasterApp. The first three titles were Treasure Kai and the Seven Cities of Lost Gold, Prancing, Dancing Lily and the first Alex Beard book, The Jungle Grapevine, which is included in the Tales from the Watering Hole MasterApp. The challenge with this project was how to set up the framework for the freemium business model with in-app purchases. Users are familiar with stand-alone games with in-app purchases that allow them to keep playing. We wanted to try it in a different context. We are releasing two more book titles and a stand-alone game within the Tales from the Watering Hole MasterApp.

Let’s backtrack a bit: What is a MasterApp?

MasterApp is an approach we developed for content that has multiple points of entry and play. It is similar to a portal that both sells and cross-markets a brand’s story or stories and products. Alex Beard, for instance, has a trilogy with related products such as board games, puzzles and plush toys. Rather than publish the stories separately, we came up with a MasterApp for his brand where we integrate games, watercolor-style painting pages, and puzzles with the animated and interactive storybooks, and cross-sell related merchandise.

You also have Appisodic. What is this?

Appisodic is a play on the word episodic. We use it in a more literal and interactive way in which we create episodic stories that are published as an interactive app. Unlike regular TV episodes, the user’s participation is required to advance the story. We are creating a series of Appisodes that will be published for iOS and Android tablets, as well as rendered for TV syndication and interactive SmartTVs.

Aside from the digital-durable product link, MasterApp and Appisodic, what else differentiates FRC from the other app companies?

We are much more than an app company. We are integrating, building and extending brands and companies through several technologies and across multiple platforms. We are focused on developing a unique user experience which bidirectionally integrates digital and durable goods. We offer services ranging from strategy on development through to product launch with ongoing marketing support. We are also technology-agnostic in that we use several different development frameworks depending on what is right for the goals of a specific brand and its range of products.

What are some of the projects in the pipeline?

We will be launching the first in a series of Appisodes for the children’s television series WordWorld. We are working with Peter Yarrow—from the legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary—to create music-based learning apps. We are also collaborating with him and Lenny Lipton on Puff, the Magic Dragon MasterApps and games based on their 2009 New York Times bestseller. We are working on a few new brands too. Charlie the Chocolate Chihuahua, another MasterApp, contains many activities and games with a funny and sweet storyline. With Zombie Finger Puppet Theater, we are integrating finger puppets sold in retail outlets with an app called Videokits, which encourages people to learn how to tell a story and also create and direct a video for a contest.

We also have some Hollywood projects. The first is, an app where you can pitch a movie or TV idea directly to Bob Kosberg, who is widely regarded as Hollywood’s King of the Pitch. In addition, we are working with Imagine Publishers to release interactive Songbook titles that host a variety of famous music talents, starting with a couple of holiday season titles.

What else can PW readers expect from FRC?

As you can see, we have a variety of great titles from books, TV shows, films, music and games coming to the app stores. But stay tuned for our 360-degree approach with other technologies integrated into toys and mobile. The list above is just some examples of our projects. As we say it here at FRC, the magic is underway!