Tuesday, November 30, 2010

JFK: 50 Days: The Legacy of an App

A few weeks ago my company, The Perseus Books Group, released an app for the iPad called JFK: 50 Days. It's meant to be a companion product to a large coffee-table book called JFK: Day by Day (Running Press), which covers the 1,036 days John F. Kennedy was President. We describe it as a companion because the app is focused on fifty select moments from the book to mark the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's election to the White House.

But what's in the app that's not in the book is more than an hour's worth of incredible video, most of which is rare footage culled from the archives of NBC News, featuring JFK, Jackie, and other members of the Kennedy family during the early 60s. Thanks to the technology of the iPad, we're confident the experience of both viewing and reading about these historical moments is truly gratifying.

So how did this all come about? Well, during a meeting with the folks at NBC News it was brought to our attention there were tons and tons of Kennedy footage in the vaults and they suggested we do a project together relating to our book. Naturally we loved this idea and immediately got to work. The first thing we needed to do was figure out just what this should be because digital projects featuring video and images are always a challenge due to the amount of file size these assets use. As a guide, we turned to the print version of the book, which is fully designed and has a particular look. Since this was going to be a companion product, we determined an app was the logical format because it would allow us to essentially keep the same design while maintaining a similar layout.

With that decision behind us, we forged ahead spending hours and hours viewing old clips in the NBC News archives division located at Rockefeller Center. It took about a full month to complete and as the lead producer of this project, I can honestly say it was quite an amazing experience and absolute privilege for our team to have been given the chance to take this unfiltered trip through history.

While all this was taking place we approached Vook about working together to program the app using Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite, since they were chosen by Adobe as a BETA tester for this new platform. If you've downloaded Wired or The New Yorker apps for iPad, which also uses this software, then the various ways to navigate JFK: 50 Days would be familiar to you. We felt it was the best option to present the fifty days in chronological order and as far as I know, this is the first book-related app using this approach. Here's a video example courtesy of NBC.

The structure of the "50 days" helped keep us focused since there was so much archival footage to watch. Even after we made our final selections there were still a number of choice moments that we just felt could not be left out of the app. So we decided to represent those pieces in montage form, which appear at the end of the app as bonus features. These montages are probably my favorite part of this project because they challenged us to string together unique pieces of forgotten history in a way that captured the essence and emotion of those moments in time.

I really hope readers come to appreciate the quality of the video because all the archived footage presented in JFK: 50 Days was painstakingly restored to deliver visuals with striking contrast and great sound. Believe me, this is not easy to do when working with film that's fifty years-old! But I feel the time, effort, and care we put into the clips really shows.

JFK: 50 Days was officially launched on November 15th with a segment on The Today Show. About a week later, David Gregory, moderator of Meet the Press, (who was kind enough to film the introduction for the app), agreed to promote it at the end of his program. There's also a terrific TV commercial airing on NBC to raise awareness in the marketplace. As you might imagine, all this has been simply fantastic to see and everyone who has been a part of this project is thrilled by NBC's support.

I'm happy to report JFK: 50 Days was #1 in the Books category of the App Store for two weeks and reached as high as #14 in paid apps overall. With the 50th anniversary of JFK's inauguration speech coming this January we're gearing up for another wave of promotions. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you have an iPad, you can get the JFK: 50 Days app here.

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