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If Magic Tales can come through Stories for children may tell the future of area software firm

Far from Silicon Valley

Capitol Multimedia hopes it's now moving in the right direction

January 21, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff

Davidson shipped 100,000 of the first three Magic Tales titles to retailers for the Christmas season. Mr. Allewaert, Davidson's chief financial officer, is tight-lipped about how many have sold.

Mr. Bogin said initial reports indicate that none of the titles, which sell on average for about $40, has broken into the top 10 sales list. The series, however, has garnered recognition from several publications, including Parents magazine. Mr. Bogin and Allewaert are counting on growing name recognition to generate strong sales next Christmas. Davidson plans to release three new titles in the spring.

Still, Magic Tales faces a cavalcade of competition from 3,000 new children's titles expected out on CD-ROM this year, say industry analysts. The other reality Capitol Multimedia faces: less than 10 percent of the software titles released annually gain wide market acceptance.

"Capitol Multimedia does a good job; they have good titles and good software programmers; but the key in the business is distribution as much as it is good programs," said Ian T. Gilson, an analyst for Van Kasper & Co. in California.

Mr. Bogin, though, is leaving that worry to others. His strategy: strike licensing deals for new kids' programs with major software publishers. Let them take on the marketing and distribution tasks.

He wants the company's reputation to be built on the quality of the programs it can produce.

That strategy, he believes, will relieve the company of the heavy financial burden of marketing and distributing programs, and won't hamstring the company should the way software programs are delivered shift with the changing tide of the communications industry.

Said Mr. Bogin, "Whether it's CD-ROM, satellite, the Internet or cable doesn't matter. Our focus is on controlling the content.

"And content," he says emphatically, "is king."

Mr. Bogin believes that if Capitol Multimedia can succeed in building a reputation as a producer of very high, cinematic quality software programs for kids, it opens the door to marketing spinoffs, from action toys to books based on characters. To keep that option open, the company retains copyrights of the programs it produces.

Also the strategy allows the company to shop itself to software publishers as a hired gun. For example, in November Capitol Multimedia signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to develop three interactive programs in an emerging genre called "action/learning," targeted at children ages 9 and above.

For now, the company's biggest hopes rest with the Magic Tales line.

The first three titles in the planned six title series hit the market in October. They include "Baba Yaga and the Magic Geese," based on a Russian folk tale, "Imo the King," based on an African folk yarn, and "The Little Samurai," based on a Japanese tale.

To establish some continuity, Capitol Multimedia's creative teams cooked up Grandpa Mouse, a benevolent character that appears in all of the titles as the storyteller reading the tale to two of his grandmice.

There are two other consistent elements in all of the tales: Lively music. Lots of it. And "hot spots." Lots of them.

These "hot spots" are aimed at interesting children and parents in exploring each "page" of the story. Users of the program can click their mouse on say, an urn sitting in a tent during the "Imo and the King" tale, and watch as the urn begins to jiggle and break into song.

Concepts for the programs are created at the Bethesda headquarters and then handed to a team of writers at Animation Magic Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that Capitol Multimedia acquired last February. There the story line is researched and written. The actual character and scene creations occur in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Animation Magic employs about 90 artists.

Final production work occurs in studios at the Bethesda headquarters.

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