Are apps marketing devices for authors and books, or a new revenue stream? This is just one of many questions book publishing companies are asking as they develop apps from their content. When PW approached large and midsize publishers to find out about their app programs, we discovered that many houses don’t have “programs” per se. Questions loom about what content is best suited for apps—though overwhelmingly it seems that reference and children’s are sweet spots—and how best to look at apps. Should apps be created with the goal of bringing in money independent of books, or as tools to market books and authors? And how do publishers define an app? Many said it was simply anything that could be sold in the App Store. This may soon change, as rumors have swelled that Apple will add restrictions on what can be sold in its App Store. (Currently, a book publisher can adapt an e-book and sell it in the App Store even if it doesn’t feature any content added to the original.) Right now, though, publishers are dipping their feet into this market slowly and, with the exception of a few houses, cautiously.
Random House has done dozens of apps so far. According to Nina von Moltke, v-p of digital publishing development, RH decides what books might make good apps by looking “at specific categories, brands, and titles for which an experience beyond e-book would provide a significant benefit.” The most obvious, not surprisingly, are children’s, lifestyle, travel, reference, and, occasionally, celebrity books. Asked how RH differentiates between an app and an enhanced e-book, von Moltke said an enhanced e-book could be an app, since anything sold in the App Store is considered an app. Speaking to notable apps in the pipeline, von Moltke said there are more apps to come from Fodor’s—there are currently five Fodor’s apps, mostly city guides, available in the App Store—as well as apps based on children’s books, including two from the house’s Schwartz & Wade imprint: Princess Baby and How Rocket Learned to Read. (In September RH announced a partnership with the digital media agency Smashing Ideas to create apps for its children’s titles.) RH is also prepping a bartender app and a number of language apps.
Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster’s chief digital officer, Ellie Hirschhorn, said S&S is “learning a ton” from its app development. “Apps should be an extension of the book,” she said, so S&S apps mostly contain excerpts or links to books, whereas e-books “should be sold in e-bookstores,” due to differences in how apps and e-books are priced, marketed, and discovered by customers. S&S’s first app was the 365 Crossword Puzzles app, which was recently revamped for the iPad; since then Hirschhorn estimates S&S has done two or three dozen more apps in broad categories: apps for fans (such as Jodi Picoult’s, which lets readers follow the author through social networks, blogs, and other media); utilities (cookbook apps, The Klingon Dictionary, and Pimsleur 2Go language apps); and games (Bro to Go, based on The Bro Code). S&S does much of the front-end design for the user experience in-house, but usually outsources the back-end coding. Prices range from free for the Picoult to $11.99 for The Klingon Dictionary.
The difference between enhanced e-books and an app is simple, Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah, said: “It’s interactivity; if the reader can do stuff with the content, it’s an app.” Earlier this year, at the Tools of Change conference in New York, Raccah outlined an ambitious plan to develop apps based on the Sourcebooks list, citing more than 50 apps in development. Since then, she said, the house has become much more selective.Now the house has 12 apps in the marketplace (priced from free to $9.99) and about 20 apps in development; “most of them” will run on both the iPhone and the iPad. Sourcebooks is a licensed Apple developer and “does almost all the development, except the programming, in-house,” with development costs ranging from $3,000 to about $10,000, Raccah said. While Sourcebooks has had success basing apps on nonfiction, such as quiz books and baby names, Raccah said even fiction can work and pointed to the success of the house’s $1.99 iDrakula app, which she compared to Perseus’s Cathy’s Book app. Based on Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel, iDrakula recreates the 19th-century novel as a contemporary epistolary e-novel retold though text messages and e-mail. The app can be downloaded for free and begins the story, but the reader must buy the rest of the updated story. Raccah said there have been 20,000 downloads of iDrakula. “We promoted it heavily,” she said and even praised the much-maligned App Store for helping the promotional effort. Raccah emphasized the importance of doing a “competitive analysis” of apps. “I killed a bunch of apps because there were too many in the market already like them,” she said. “The App Store is like any other store,” she explained. “Discovery can be difficult. But we’ve learned a lot about what it takes to go viral.” She said to look for Sourcebooks to partner with other publishers and even agents to develop apps in the future.
Lorena Jones, Chronicle’s publishing director for apps, said the house is moving aggressively into apps right now. The company is first focusing its development on apps based on food and drink books, and will be launching children’s and entertainment apps for the Nookcolor and other platforms in 2011. In November and December, Chronicle will launch five food and drink apps, including a version of the popular backlist title The Art of the Slow Cooker, featuring video and other enhancements. Other food apps will also feature shopping and pronunciation guides for exotic foods. The median price for these apps will be $4.99. “These apps are not promotional at all,” said Jones. “They’re extensions of the publishing program, so we recognize that these authors have communities established, and within those communities there are consumers who have great affinity for their work.” Jones also noted that, being a publisher specializing in design-heavy books, Chronicle art-directs all its apps in-house.
Hachette Book Group
Hachette has done 10 to 15 apps thus far and, like many book publishers, defines an app as anything that can be sold in the App Store. The house said it’s just starting to ramp up its program, feeling out which content works best as an app. Hachette is creating most of its apps in-house, though the publisher has worked with outside developers. One interesting app on the horizon, said Jim Bean, manager of creative applications and workflow, is an Ansel Adams app—Hachette is the photographer’s longtime publisher—that is currently under review by Apple. Hachette worked with Adams’s estate in procuring some of the content, and the app will feature Adams’s letters and photos, and will also give users some creative license, such as the ability to make their own postcards. As to whether the app space is best used as a promotional tool for books or could generate revenue, Bean said no one yet knows. “Right now it’s just a free space,” he said, adding that everyone is still trying to figure out how best to populate it and profit from it.
HarperCollins’s chief digital officer, Charlie Redmayne, said that HC has large numbers of apps developed for its many imprints in the U.S. and U.K. The development process involves the editorial team and author working with outside partners, though Redmayne speculates that HC may eventually bring development completely in-house. “Each app is treated as a completely new format,” he said. The company is focusing on information publishing as well as children’s books, which Redmayne views as the two areas most suited to apps. Successful HC apps include the SAS Survival Guide ($6.99) for iOS devices and various cookbook apps; HC made an app that can be customized to present multimedia content based on various cookbook titles. Redmayne also noted that it’s difficult to help consumers discover products in the App Store and that he is wary of “just plunking [apps] in there.”
Hyperion currently has two apps available—one featuring Nigella Lawson (which was created with her British book publisher, Random House UK) and one based on Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing… According to Mindy Stockfield, v-p of marketing and digital media, the house has focused on enriched e-book content rather than apps, given the reigning price points in the App Store—between 99 cents and $2.99. “The challenge we face is creating a compelling book product in a store that is essentially the Dollar Store,” she said. In choosing titles to turn into apps, or enhanced e-books, Stockfield said Hyperion looks to consumer demand: “We make sure that the additional assets we have will truly provide an experience that a consumer wants.” She added: “Our vision regarding the acquisition process and editorial process is not just thinking about the one platform of a print book. It is about looking at a story from all platforms and that includes e-books, enhanced e-books, and apps.”
Lonely Planet currently has 115 apps (based on its City Guides and Phrasebooks, which offer audio pronunciation guides) for the iPhone in addition to the 1000 Ultimate Experiences app for the iPad, said Lonely Planet’s communications executive, Rana Freedman. The travel publisher’s content is particularly suitable for producing interactive experiences, she said. In addition, Lonely Planet has 41 apps for the Android market (based on the same city guides and phrasebooks), 35 apps for Nokia phones, and one free promotional app (Top Cities for 2011) for the newly released Windows 7 phone OS. IPhone apps are $5.99; the iPad app is $3.99, and the Android and Nokia apps are $4.99. Freedman said most apps are developed in-house and are profitable; “although they are costly to create, the marketplace is very strong for them and there’s been strong demand and strong sales,” she said. Brice Gosnell, Lonely Planet’s publisher for the Americas, said the goal is to have “an e-book or an app for every title on the Lonely Planet list.”
Molly Barton, Penguin’s director of business development, said, “We consider an app to be anything that has interactive elements surrounding the text,” and pointed to the success of The Pillars of the Earth app ($12.99), based on the Ken Follett novel. Enhanced e-books, she said, “are titles with some additional elements,” which could include video, audio, or links. Penguin has 10 apps in the marketplace, ranging from the novel Angelology, a free download that offers a sample, which then allows the reader to unlock the complete novel for $14.99, to Mad Libs apps for $3.99. Barton said Penguin does not “fully outsource” the development of its apps or “have an exclusive relationship with any third parties, but we do work closely with outside [app] developers.” “Every [Penguin] department—editorial, publicity, art—is integral to digital development,” she added. When assessing whether to do an app, she said, “we look at two things: what is the creative vision—what will the app do? and what can the technology support? It all centers on how to best support the content and its delivery.” Barton said Penguin was “pleased by the [sales] performance of the apps we’ve produced and we remain committed to creating products that can be sold through as many places and as many devices as possible.” With the rising popularity of iPads, smartphones, tablets and other devices, she said, “It’s clear this is a market that’s here to stay. As we go forward it will become easier to include video in a standard e-book, and it will be more important to make sure any apps truly bring something new to the table.”
Best known for the app based on the first volume of the YA Cathy’s Book trilogy, Perseus has used that app to experiment and guide its app development program, according to Peter Costanzo, director of online marketing. Costanzo said Perseus is working to complete apps for the final two volumes of the Cathy’s Book series, but will focus more on enhanced e-books rather than apps in the future. “Apps are not appealing as reading material,” he said. “They work more as a companion to the book, but we’ve learned a lot working on them.” And like a lot of publishers, he complained about the difficulty of marketing and promotion using the App Store: “Unless you have a partner, it’s hard to market on the App store. It’s easier to work with Amazon to promote an enhanced e-book.” But, he said, Perseus is working on “three or four select” app projects including JFK: 50 Days, an app based on the Perseus title, JFK Day by Day, created to mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s election. Created in collaboration with NBC News, the app will be released this week for $6.99 and offers rare photos and NBC video footage of 50 key moments in JFK’s short administration. The house is also working on an enhanced e-book of Alex Haley’s Roots. Perseus works with Vook, KiwiTech, Expanded Books, Ubermind, and several others to develop its app projects, and Costanzo said the focus is on experimentation. “We’re not doing a lot, because they take time to do and cost a lot. We don’t want to find out down the road that we’ve been doing it wrong.”