Last week a Santa Barbara writer announced that one of her stories had been selected for Smories. Intrigued, I followed the link and discovered Smories.com, a website with free original stories for kids, read by kids. What a concept!
Run by a couple of British illustrators, Lisa Swirling and Ralph Lazar, Smories.com is quickly becoming a popular site both for writers and children. Every month the couple records and uploads 50 new stories, 750 words or less, read on camera by some charming little narrators. Authors retain the copyright to their work, and thousands of people are exposed to their stories. Ralph Lazar took a few minutes to tell me more about this new idea.
How long ago did you start Smories.com?
We got the idea in February, quite literally in the middle of Kalahari desert in Botswana, where there are no paved roads, no people, and no mobile phone reception. We chatted about it for a couple of days and the moment we crossed the border into South Africa, we called a friend in London to check to see if the domain name was available, which it was! By the time we got to Cape Town the concept was well-formed in our heads, and the site went live a few weeks later.
I think it’s pretty cool that your daughter actually recorded herself reading to her younger sister during this epic car ride, which of course sparked the idea. Were you surprised to find that no one was doing this already?
Yes, very surprised.
How many readers do you have? How did you recruit them?
We can’t disclose any specific information about our readers for obvious reasons. There is not a fixed pool of readers, and they are recruited through word of mouth.
Why fifty? Isn’t that a lot of stories every month?!
We wanted to have a lot of content to get the site going. From 01 August we will be publishing a new smory every day. By October we hope to be publishing 2 or 3 new smories every day.
Why did you decide to make the stories available for free?
We want the site to be a destination for kids that’s a safe alternative to the likes of youtube. Accordingly, it needs to be free.
In the beginning you hosted a competition with cash prizes. Why has that changed?
It’s expensive to give away $1,500 per month!
Well, I can’t blame you there! How many submissions are you wading through each month?
In excess of 500 per month.
Wow! Talk about a slush pile! How much traffic does your site receive?
Just over 35,000 films were watched in the first month. We’re now in the second month and the trend looks the same.
Do either you or Lisa write for children?
Nope, we have never written childrens stories before. We illustrate quite a big a series of reference books for DK called The Brainwaves.
So those are your fun illustrations on the website?
Yes, they are mine.
The site is obviously still evolving. How do you see the Smories website developing in the next six months? In the next year?
Daily smories launch in August. More sophisticated filter functionality will be added to the site, allowing viewers to be more selective about what they are watching. Slowly it will will evolve to become a safe and user-friendly online channel for kids. We expect to be launching multi-language versions of the site later in the year.
What has surprised you most since you started this venture?
Massive goodwill from writers, narrators, parents, kids, librarians & teachers. It has been an extremely positive experience for everyone involved.
If you write picture books and are interested in submitting your story to Smories.com, go to their Submit a Story page. Authors retain the copyright to their work. To find out more about Lisa and Ralph and their vision for Smories, read their FAQ.