Peter Collingridge, Co-founder of Enhanced Editions, gives FutureBook his view from 3 international digital publishing conferences.
Peter Collingridge, Co-founder of Enhanced
Editions, gives FutureBook his view from 3 international digital
publishing conferences: In the last two weeks I have spoken at three
digital publishing conferences around the world: Digital Book
World in New York; NLPVF in Amsterdam and If Book Then in Milan.
Whilst the principle area of growth in publishing is in what these
conferences call "vanilla" ebooks, there was much talk of enhanced
editions, and I enjoyed a variety of conversations both on how
publishers are making apps, and how to make them successful.
With agencies quoting entry points for apps at $50k,
apps can represent a high risk. It is managing this risk that I spent a
lot of time talking about.
First of all - our approach. Coming from a tech background, we knew
when we founded Enhanced Editions that a scalable platform (ie the
ability to make 1000s of apps from the same code) would dramatically
mitigate the risks and costs involved in the setup, so long as we got
the user experience right. By comparison, the entry point to our
platform is just £5k. However, whilst companies such as Vook in the USA
take a similar approach, this is surprisingly rare, with many people I
talked to choosing to build apps without a view to reusing the code in
Henry Volans of Faber Digital included in his talk in
Amsterdam a quote from a discussion we had, where I likened this
approach to "betting everything on red"; Richard Nash (formerly of Soft
Skull and now founder of publishing community startup Cursor) likened
this further to "betting everything on 7" and being "like buying a
racehorse". Nash's focus at Cursor is to instead "own a racetrack."
Faber has had a well-deserved success with The Solar System app. Volans cited 25,000 sales
internationally in the first month, and with 50% of the $13.99 being
split between Faber, Touch Press and author Marcus Chown, it seems
likely that their significant (but undisclosed) development costs have
been met. The other ±50% will go to the VAT man and Apple.
Faber created The Solar System with a model familiar to film
companies - the funding of a pot of cash for development, with a share
of the spoils allocated in proportion to the investment. Whilst Faber
can't reuse the code, the success of The Solar System sees it now being
translated into Japanese and other languages, with foreign rights
deals being handled by Faber: an old-school kind of scalability. Clever
At the time of the conference in Amsterdam, The Solar System was
being promoted as "App of the Week" in every country around the world,
according to Volans. This support from Apple, without doubt, is the
single most significant factor in an app's success, like loading the
roulette wheel. However, it is my opinion that publishers are putting
too much emphasis on this gamble in their promotional strategies,
rather than planning a more nuanced campaign themselves that looks to
independent methods of promotion. For example, how can awareness be
created without relying on Apple's involvement?
I spoke at DBW with Dominique Raccah, CEO of SourceBooks, and one of
the leading lights of USA enhanced ebooks. Raccah has had hits with
titles such as Baby Names (80,000 downoads) and several other titles
developed from the ground-up from their print list, and says that their
average sales are "a few thousand" of each app.
Soon to launch is their Fiske guide to university admissions
processes, an interactive version aimed at students. When I asked
Raccah what her marketing strategy for the title was, she said, simply,
"promotion from Apple", with whom they clearly have a great
relationship. Whilst we discussed other strategies - from Facebook
advertising (based on keywords shown on user profiles) to working with
the colleges direct, it was clear that these approaches were far
subordinate to promotion from Apple.
One thing I find very exciting about Sourcebooks is their structure.
All of the app planning - the information architecture, user
interface, user experience - is done inhouse and outputs blueprints for
the apps. The subsequent development (coding) work is outsourced to an
increasingly commoditised market. This is a different, and very smart,
way of minimising costs and risk, so long as you know what you are
Dominique's relationship with Apple leads to other benefits: the
launch of Fiske had actually been delayed because Apple had seen a beta
version, and made some UI (user interface) suggestions. Raccah took the
advice that it should "show off the features of the device" better.
Similarly Liz Kessler of Hachette presented an app they had recently
made for photographer Ansel Adams. The feedback from Apple was that the
app was "too bookish", and the subsequent re-engineering delayed
launch and extended deadlines and budgets. Such delays were clearly
lesser risks than failing to impress Apple.
The digital marketing approach of many publishers reminds me of the
reliance set on retailers to do the promotion of print books. As well
as being risky, I fear that this omits one huge upside of digital: the
ability to market direct to your readers, and to capture rich data
about their usage. These are two areas in which Amazon, Apple and
Google excel, and which should be seen as an invaluable by-product of
any digital project.
Apple loomed large at DBW, was but conspicuously absent from the
podium, unlike Amazon (who by and large impressed the crowd) and Google
(who dramatically underwhelmed the audience). As James Bridle tweeted
in Milan, "The big 3 always used to refer to publishers and were
different from country to country. Now it's the same globally: Apple,
The power of Apple to change fortunes on a whim was shown by the
emerging storm around in-app purchasing; Michael Tamblyn of Kobo
described being on the App Store to me as "like farming on the sides of
a volcano: incredibly fertile lands, but you never know when you're
going to get wiped out".
It is clear that a significant new ecosystem of enhanced books is
emerging on the Apple platform, but Apple risks confusing users by
putting apps in the App Store rather than iBooks, their eBook store.
Book apps are a genuine example of user experience differentiation that
Apple currently holds over Amazon and Google, whose platforms do not
support many of the features available in an app. As Apple struggles to
compete against Amazon, and as books compete with Facebook and Angry
Birds for people's attention, I wonder whether integrating enhanced
books into iBooks would help celebrate the benefits of reading on the
iPad over Kindle?
I had further fascinating conversations with other members of the
international publishing net set: Peter Meyers, formerly of O'Reilly
and author of the recent "Best iPad apps" book, described the
incredibly fertile ecosystem springing up in enhanced books from
outside publishing such as Strange Rain and The Pedlar Lady but bemoaned the lack of attention
to narrative and typography. Mike Shatzkin suggested that "publishers
are in serious danger of losing control of the juvenile market to
developers", although I disagree not least because of the powerful pull
of brands such as Miffy, Maisy or Disney (who recently announced over
1m downloads of a Toy Story book app).
Ed Nawotka, from Publishing Perspectives, noted that UK publishers
are more advanced with enhancements than their US counterparts. He put
this down to two factors: (1) that USA publishers got burned a lot more
badly by CDROMs, although he thinks the comparison between enhanced
editions and CDROM is fatuous; and (2) that the cultures of the media
and creative industries in the UK are simply much more innovative and
adventurous than in the USA.
Publishing is a creative industry, entering a moment of great
innovation. And innovation is all about managing risk. Fortunately, the
rewards can be bountiful and long-lasting, and there are many ways for
well-executed digital projects to mitigate the risks of their print
counterparts. My advice to publishers who are interested in digital
innovation is two-fold. Firstly to learn as much as possible, as
quickly and as cheaply as possible, from everything they do; and
secondly to channel their considerable creativity into making sure that
their marketing is as polished, considered, and contemplative of their
users as the products they have made.
More on Enhanced Editions, here [www.enhanced-editions.com]
and on Twitter @gunzalis @enhancededition