Fiction publishers should make books, not apps

So, I know, that’s kind of a controversial headline, but for us it is the result of about five months of planning, networking, debating and creating – and then changing our minds.

Sarah Odedina always planned for Hot Key to be digitally savvy. (Lucky me, it means I got to get a job here!) And Sarah Benton and I were dead set on taking full advantage and producing an innovative digital accompaniment for a book we all loved. MAGGOT MOON by Sally Gardner described by Meg Rosoff as “The Perfect Book” and the Telegraph this weekend as “the outstanding teenage novel of the autumn”.

We set out from day one, determined to make an innovative fiction app that amplified Sally’s ideas to challenge public perception of dyslexia. We met with tons of great app developers and honed and refined our concept, trying to pack in the most dyslexia-friendly features and examples as we could. There was going to be a drawing feature – because doodling often helps dyslexics concentrate – and text-to-audio sync, lots of font and colour options… and then some stuff at the back of Sally talking about her experiences.

But the more we poked at the project, the clearer it became that:
1. We would spend all our budget on programming, and have practically nothing left for extra content.
2. Pricing a book app in the app store was going to just be awful.
3. Getting noticed in the app store would be so, so difficult.
4. By the time we actually saw visuals of a prototype, we realised that what we were taking about didn’t feel very innovative anymore.

Luckily, one of our many meetings was with Justin Moodie of Clerkenwell Digital. He had worked at DK building their beautiful iBooks using the new and exciting tool that Apple had just released, iBooks Author. He suggested that we consider working with the platform.

Like a government U-turn, the idea took a little while to properly bed in, but once we’d finally come to terms with not building an app, so so so many possibilities opened up. (Plus Sally was so excited about the possibilities of new format.)

1. The average build cost was reduced by about two thirds.
2. We could spend time and energy on enhancing Sally’s personal story and the one she had written by creating videos, artwork and getting permissions for things like Winston Churchill telegrams and artwork by Escher.
3. At the time, no one had used iBooks Author for fiction, and not for young adult fiction, so we would be innovating.
4. And this was the one that really sealed the deal: it would be a BOOK sold through a BOOK store.

Here’s Sally’s introduction to the book:

We are so proud of what we have made, so much so that we’re going to do it again! iBooks Author is an amazing tool that ANYONE can use to publish beautiful books. Check this out:

Please let us know what you think of the Maggot Moon Multi-touch iBook – it’s only available for iPad, but that’s because that’s where it looks the most beautiful.


3 responses to “Fiction publishers should make books, not apps

  1. I completely felt the same way at first but you made the right decision. This multi-touch edition is something very special.

  2. Ooh, this sounds very exciting! Do we download the book from itunes?

    • Yes! For iPad only, make sure you find the Multi-touch edition, as the straight ebook is also available for iPhone readers.

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