#BookApps: A cloudy debate

Last night I attended The Appside: Publishing Apps – what’s the story? event which brought together leading App developers and key figures within book publishing, to talk case studies, show and tell and give insight into what works in the Book App market. See the speaker profiles here

It was a fascinating event for those old and new to App publishing. For us, a new publisher, setting out to do fun things in digital publishing, it was a fact finding and networking mission in the most. As Sara O’Connor and I have spent the last 6 months meeting and investigating as many App developers as possible, there were many familiar faces within the room, so it was good to catch up with what new developments and releases there have been.

Some quick stats before I begin:

  • The App market simply didn’t exist in 2008
  • The average smart phone user downloads around 2.5 Apps a month and spend about £1 a month (50p for Android users)
  • Over 80% of Android users have never downloaded an App (showing they are still a long way to denting Apple’s market)
  • 80% of apps in the Appstore are free
  • People now spend more time on smart phone Apps than they do browsing the internet
  • At the moment only 5% of App market is book related
  • Book category is seeing a huge growth in last 2 years
  • Average price of book apps is 98p (ouch!)

The App Developer Show and Tell part of the event was brilliant with some very cool apps being shown. My favourites were:

MeBooks – loved their Penguin Classics app last year, and excited to see them expanding into newer picture books and different publishers working together. A fantastic example of simplicity within book apps.

Agant and a self-published comic book app which has been updated to think really creatively about new layouts and ways of navigating comics in app form. Their User Experience app looked fantastic and is coming soon.

TouchPress – who made a real impact with The Waste Land app last year, and showed their upcoming Shakespeare’s Sonnets app, with multiple readings from celebrities including *yum* David Tenant. The really interesting thing about this one being all the content will also be available for free online, to show what the app contains, and I guess to entice people.

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of the evening but for those that want to, catch up through A Storify of Tweets and by searching The #bookapps hashtag on Twitter. There was also a publisher panel at the end which is recapped here The Appside Blog – Publisher Profile.

From my experience of the evening, and talking to developers and other publishers over the last few months, it’s fair to say the Book App market is a cloudy place to be. There is so much debate still about what the future holds. Who’s making any money? How can you justify the large development costs? How do you break an app out of all the clutter in the Appstore? Do you need to gamify a children’s book to hold kids attention? App vs iBook? What is the secret to success?

Unfortunately nobody has all the answers. Everyone is experimenting in digital publishing, some with success, some not so much. Something that continues to be mentioned time and time again is that you need to be allowed to fail at the moment, as that’s how you learn. But you hope, that if you fail, it hasn’t cost you heaps and heaps of money…

From the Publisher Panel, we were promised facts and figures, who’s sold what and earned back what? Out of the four panelists, only two were willing to share sales figures. It’s obviously a sensitive issue, but I do think this needs to change,  in order for everyone’s expectations to be in the same place.

In the print business, 98% of the market is signed up to Nielsen BookScan – a sales tracking system which means any publisher can see any other publishers book sales, author value (at a cost, obviously) etc. There is no such equivalent in the App or ebook arena currently, so everyone is very cagey about their own figures. In an ideal world, if everyone shared more and were able to see through the App mist, everyone would make more informed decisions, fail less, and the industry would be far better for it.

It shouldn’t be about winners and losers, it should be about helping our industry get stories and content out to more people, in more innovative ways, and understanding best the ways to do that.

We will have more information coming soon on our upcoming digital publishing projects, and we promise to share as much as we can with you.

Until then, thanks to The Appside for hosting such a great event, and I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s in or around the Book App subject?

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4 responses to “#BookApps: A cloudy debate

  1. Great round up, Sarah. Wish I could have been there. We will definitely share sales figures of our digital projects — it’s all part of our philosophy of desmistifying publishing and being open about what we’re doing. And I fully expect our sales figure to hit their very reasonable projections… if it takes me loitering outside an Apple store and harassing people to download as they come and go.

  2. Sounds like a really interesting event Sarah, thanks for the comprehensive round up. I guess what’s difficult it that we can all see how we can make amazingly creative, innovative digital content, and that, for a bunch of creative people, is really exciting. Also as publishers we are already connected to our ‘content’ and we are proud promoters and developers of brilliant content – the stuff in books is surely the best content in the world?

    But what is really foggy at the moment is how to make it work financially, and also how to drive sales and market any app or digital product you produce. Furthermore it does seem that generally people want an app to do more, but they want to pay less for it, or they want it free.

    However I do think though it’s really vital for our industry for publishers to be in this brave new digital world. We are people who know our audience really well, and have years of experience of bringing exciting books and authors to market.

    • Thanks Helen! Yes, creatively it’s an incredible time, with endless possibilities in terms of interactive content. No longer being defined by the page is seriously exciting. But yes, it’s the financial fogginess that is tricky and the expectation of ‘free’ that makes it hard.

      There were some brilliant examples of success stories though, and nearly all of them had quality at the very heart of them. People will pay for good content, as long as you think about marketing right at the beginning. How and why will people buy your app over others should be the very start of your conversation. And as one speaker said yesterday – ‘Hope is not a strategy’!

      I agree with you though – it’s very important that we experiment. And I would love it if we can all learn from each other…Here’s hoping!

  3. Pingback: FutureBook Innovation Workshop (#FIW12): A new company’s view |

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