Kickstarter and Interactive eBooks, An Interview with Donny Claxton

I’ve known Donny since we met at a men’s conference a few years ago in Atlanta, and when he shared with me that he was working on an interactive book around the history of Machu Picchu, I was so interested, I asked if I could interview him. This is the result.

Q: You’re launching a new type of interactive book with your kickstarter project on Machu Picchu. What’s your inspiration for this?

What excites me the most is an image of a darkened kid’s room at night with a pup tent set up in the middle of the room.  On the cover of the tent are patterns of pyramids, Stonehenge, menhirs, and‘s logo of course, but inside the tent, instead of seeing the beams of a flashlight dancing about, you see the rectangular light of an iPad moving around.  And as the camera peers in closer, you see a Dad’s silhouette.  He’s finishing up and says, “And that’s Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!”  And next to him, a little head moves to look at him and his DAUGHTER says, “Daddy, that was great! When can we go back?”  And dad replies, “How about tomorrow night? Sis.”  

It’s the potential for that kind of interaction between dads and their kids that really excites me the most.  Of course, dads are going to go re-read and dig deeper into the levels of the book than the kids, but it can become such a great tool for parent-child learning and nightly bed time stories.   

Q: Why Machu Picchu, of all the places in the world to choose?

There’s the business answer–The Google traffic about the site is incredible each month from all over the world.  There’s a demand to know more about this incredible site.  And because it is so fragile and relatively remote, it’s hard to get to and not something everyone can afford on a budget these days.  This is a viable solution that meets such demands. 

Then there’s the more passionate answer–Machu Picchu now is regarded as one of the “new Seven Wonders of the World.”  2012 marks the 100 year anniversary of its “re-discovery” by American Archeologist Hiram Bingham.  And then it is really a fascinating place that helps all of us in our search for answers to what was life like for our ancient ancestors, what did they know, and how could they do things we’d have a hard time replicating today.  There’s just an innate curiosity people have about Machu Picchu and we are trying to help them find some answers.

Q: When you compare an interactive book, which is expensive to create, with a photo book a la “A Day In The Life”, there’s a clear trade-off between production cost. Why did you choose interactive?

We chose Interactive Books for the iPad because they clearly are the platform that offers the greatest experience to readers who want to feel like they’re there.  And for those who go, they’ll even be able to take their iPad and point it at points at the site and use it as a tour guide instead of those old $9.99 headphones and a cassette recorder.  Is it going to cost a little more than normal?  Maybe, but there are only 2,500 people a day the Peruvian government will even let tour the site because of the impact foot traffic is having on it.  We think it’s worth it to put together this real-life, virtual experience for the benefit of ‘children’ of all ages who will be able to tour the site, again, even if they never get to go in person.

Q: While there are a number of different computing platforms for an interactive book, the iPad tablet is a clear market leader. Are you just focusing on producing an interactive title for the iPad, or will you support Android, Windows 8 tablet, etc?

With 52 million iPads sold, it’s clearly a business decision at this point to focus on where the greatest market is.  However, we know that there are other developments coming a long and we are waiting for Android and Microsoft to come forward with software alternatives that also will allow us to bring this experience to their platforms.  But for now, we’re focusing on developing the best product possible and the most bells and whistles possible for the Interactive Book for the iPad..

Q: What’s next for Wonder Expeditions after Machu Picchu?

Already in product is Dr. Mark Van Stones’ 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, a book already in print and in an e-pub format, but we know, already half-way through its conversion into an Interactive Book, once its out readers will look at the three alternative formats and clearly see there’s only one they want to read.  We are hoping to have Dr. Van Stone’s book out in mid-Summer as interest in whether or not we’re all going to die on Dec. 21, 2012 escalates.  Next month in Memphis at the Society of American Archeologists, we’re getting the forward shot with one of Dr. Van Stone’s mentors and one of the original professors who starte
d the whole 2012 meme to begin with.  Not to mention some other great scholars. 

But after Machu Picchu we are planning to do books right out of the shoot on Stonehenge, The Colosseum in Rome, The Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids of Giza.  Two weeks ago we sent our first crew to Chaco Canyon New Mexico to begin work on an Interactive Book on the Anasazi Indians.  It’s just fascinating where all this project will take us.

And on our Website, we’re already loading up cool content about some of these places around the world.  Coming soon will be a Webinar series where anyone can sign up and talk to some of the world’s prime scholars on these sites and topics and learn what you cannot learn from watching a crazy show like Ancient Aliens.

Q: Switching gears, you’re seeking funding through Kickstarter. Tell us briefly what Kickstarter is, how it works, and why you choose that avenue to fund the project?

Kickstarter is a crowd-source fundraising site. You develop a fund-raising goal, add descriptions of what your project is about, do a video to support your effort and then spend the next 30-60 grueling days expanding your social circles and networks and asking, encouraging and convincing people that you have a great project that will come to be, only, and only if, you reach your funding goal.  Nearly 50 percent of all projects get funded.  The trick is to be in the group who does….

When people back the campaign, they also get a commitment for some cool stuff from the project’s organizers.  For instance, for $25 a person is going to get their name at the back of our book, but also get to interact with us as we do the project and actually get a vote on one of the three final cover options for the book so they have some buy in and satisfaction for hopefully having made a difference.  They’ll also get a copy of the book.  Good stuff.

Q: What’s your experience with Kickstarted at this point just a few days into your project being publicly available?

We started yesterday, a Thursday and wanted to make sure we were in the game before payday of March 2012. Things were slow yesterday but we’ve had a good morning on a Friday and are excited about having things ready to tickle people’s interest when they return to work Monday.  This is a lot of work and it’s not easy.  Asking people to fund a project, particularly a new type of project and one that’s going to largely happen in a foreign country on another continent is a little daunting.  But it has to be done if we’re going to be successful.  Every person we can reach directly or through the networks of others, is a potential backer who will put us that much closer to our goal.  The short answer is I’m scared to death!  

Q: I have to ask this, where does the target funds of $57,766 come from? What are we paying for?

As in all things, nothing ever is free.  Five percent of what we raise is going to, that’s their bid.  Another 5 percent goes to Amazon for a transactional fee.  The rest of the funding goes to help cover the costs of sending a four or five-person crew to Peru for a week and dodge the rains, other tourists, the bugs and did I mention SNAKES?!  (We hear it’s the 12-inch gray ones that are the worst!)  Like I said before, going to Machu Picchu isn’t inexpensive and it’s part of the reason most people never will get to go there in the first place.  

There also will be production costs, like you have to get permits from the Peruvian government to use “professional lenses” to shoot.  And then there are costs for ISBN listings, equipment rentals, shipping and even to pay for some of the cool swag we will send out as rewards for backing the program.  That all gets factored in with the cost of the project.  

It’s not an easy thing to make all this come together.  And rather than going to a Venture Capitalist who is going to want to take a chunk of the company, this helps us prove our worthin
ess so that hopefully other funding possibilities will come about.

Chance #2 for you to hop over to Kickstarter to help Donny with this cool project…

Q: Finally, tell us a bit about yourself, Donny, and what’s brought you to this unusual project.

I’ve been in public relations for about 25 years and worked for two Alabama governors, served as the communications director for Dallas schools, and done corporate PR for ExxonMobil, but nothing in that time has excited me like the opportunities The Wonders Expedition presents.  Before leaving corporate PR, I had gotten really big into social media and blogging.  Traditional PR firms don’t understand the power and impact they have.  Or didn’t then.  

The Wonders Expedition began back in July when I literally asked myself, “What the Hell is Stonehenge doing up there all by itself?” I then began to pull the GPS coordinates of more than 250 sites around the globe and started to see some remarkable patterns. Nonetheless, a study of these sites brought a realization that most people never will be able to visit them in person and there is so much mystery and curiosity about them. So we found a way to give people a real-life experience of these places, even if they can’t go there in person.  With these Interactive Books for the iPad, and soon, other mobile devices, it’s going to provide an incredible experience. By the way, I sound found out that Stonehenge isn’t in any way “all by itself.”  There are hundreds of sites all over Great Britain like it in many, many ways.

It is the potential to help bring parts of the world to those who might otherwise miss it that excites me and gets me up every morning.  I’m working on this project from about 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily.  My three daughters went to Poverty Point, in Louisiana for December Solstice.  We had the most incredible time learning and finding out things like the Native American Indians were building mounds in Louisiana BEFORE the Egyptians were building the pyramids two degrees to the south and 7,000 miles to the east.  The mystery just keeps my fires burning.

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