Books have accompanied humanity for centuries and, while we can’t imagine there will ever be a time where we’ll be able to do without them, it can be interesting to see how storyworlds can expand into new multimedia channels.
Editrice Il Castoro is one of those publishing houses who’s pushing the needle forward in innovating their sector, always open to new ideas and testing out new formats. And with this spirit, they embraced the idea of expanding one of their many titles for children and young adults, creating a voice interactive experience for the Alexa platform.
As we were starting to consider how an Alexa Skill of this type should look and feel like, two things immediately became clear:
- The technology shouldn’t be an alternative to the book, rather it should complement the central reading experience and expand its boundaries
- Deciding which book would have the right characteristics to center this project around would be crucial to its success
With these two clear goals in mind, i.e. finding the perfect title that would benefit from being expanded by a voice app, and understanding the way the voice app and the book would interact, we set out on this journey.
Together with Editrice Il Castoro, we examined their rich catalog, scouting for the best candidate to translate on a voice medium and eventually settled on Vocine Vocione. The final choice ultimately was made on the inherent sound-forwardness of the title, as well as its predisposition to benefit from a multimedial expansion.
The book tells the story of the Frastuono family, who owns a very special shop, selling sounds and noises of all kinds. There’s always a lot of confusion in there, as nobody knows what silence is, and Ninìn, the youngest of the family, struggles to make his voice heard.
A second challenge we faced regarded our commitment to making the character come to life and creating a cohesive user experience.
The final product was going to be an Alexa Skill, but using the assistant’s default voice would be taking away from the experience. The user wouldn’t truly feel like they were talking to Ninìn, the son of Noise Shop owners.
This pushed us to embark on a new challenge of scouting the perfect young voice to embody the character and recording the content to guide users throughout the voice experience.
Once the set was staged, we were able to get to the fun part: finding solutions. As with all our projects, we followed our tried and true method and adapted it to this unique exploratory situation.
These are the steps we took to get there:
- Research, to discover Il Castoro’s catalog and explore series for different ages
- Identifying Vocine Vocione (tr: Little Voices, Big Voices), a title for preschool readers, as the perfect storyworld to expand into a vocal dimension, and imagining the voice experience
- Dialogue design, to define how users would be guided through by Ninìn and interact with the Noise Shop and listen to the hundreds of sounds
- Voice actor scouting, together with the writer Cristina Bellemo and the illustrator Laura Deo, and recording the content
- Prototyping and testing on the Voiceflow platform
- Development of the Alexa Skill
- Beta-testing with selected testers within the target age group
The final product is a multi-modal voice app that allows users to discover a rich library of 100+ sounds and noises, guided by the voice of Ninìn, the Noise Shop owners’ young son. Users can also ask to listen to a specific sound or for hearing multiple sounds in a row, while visualizing the related illustrations on the smart speaker’s screen.
The voice app doesn’t take away from the book, whose strengths lie in the narrative dimensions. Instead, it seeks to complement it, valuing interactivity and education, as it allows preschool children to play with noises they’re familiar with, and discover lesser known ones.
The Alexa Skill was widely recognized by users and industry experts as a successful example of sound and voice-forward innovation that positively enriches the timeless book reading experience.
The project was shortlisted in the children publishing industry’s key strategic fair, Bologna Children’s Book Fair for the BolognaRagazzi CrossMedia Award 2021. It was the only voice app to be included amongst the 10 finalists, pathing the way for the future of this format.
As the 5-star review of the Mamamò blog reads:
“The excellent audio expansion of the Vocine Vocione narration, thus, proves that an advantageous integration of paperback and digital is possible, when stories are allowed to flow from a book to a connected device, not as mere transpositions but as interactive and multimedia enrichments.”
The Alexa Skill, part of the Amazon Kids curated selection and widely promoted on the Alexa store and newsletter, has registered over 10 thousand sessions with a constant influx of new and returning users, at a 4/5 stars average.
The popularity of the Skill has also improved the visibility of our partners, Editrice Il Castoro, as it has allowed users to discover the book by way of the voice app, while exploring a new sound-forward interactive format.
Inspired to explore a voice-forward strategy for your company? We can help.
And if you’re still hungry for knowledge, follow us on LinkedIn for weekly updates on the world of conversational AI, or check out our other case studies on the 44 Gatti Alexa Skill, to play with the songs from the beloved TV series, and Lavazza Gaming Partner Alexa Skill, in partnership with Fnatic.