Before the discussion, Peter gave a short presentation about the need to define what is meant by “discoverability” and its importance in the changing world of technology and publishing today.
His talk is reproduced below in full.
Adding Value in Digital Publishing 31/03/11
Earlier this year, our co-founder Peter Collingridge was interviewed about Enhanced Editions and digital publishing at Digital Book World:
“We see ourselves kind of like a publishing company. What we’re trying to do is not do stuff just because you can do it. I kind of got that stuff out in the last ten, thirteen years of being paid to do kind of wacky marketing stuff. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t.
“With digital books, the suggestion is, reading is an amazing, immersive, time consuming, rewarding endeavor. It’s not Twitter. It’s very very different to that kind of thing. You’ve got to be careful as to how you seek to disrupt that experience from the eyes of the person that’s reading it.
“We see our company as an experimental company. We’re trying to drive the future of the book commercially. We’re very commercially driven. We want to see what consumers like. We gather a lot of data, we look at that data, we see what’s popular and what’s not popular and we iterate on the back of that.
“There’s an amazing opportunity…to properly digitize the books. Not just digitizing the text, but digitizing the whole experience.
“There’s a lot of things you can do. You shouldn’t do all of them. You should have an editor’s view of which are the right features, functionalities, experiences to add around the text. But you also have to experiment. We’re interested in using technology intelligently to make books a part of our – increasingly digital – lives in the 21st century.
“We’re trying to innovate at a user experience level that isn’t just that facsimile of the book because we believe that, to kids growing up today, there’s more to offer than that. I’m very interested to see how that landscape is going to evolve, even in the next 3 to 12 months.”
You may know that last Saturday was the inaugural World Book Night, an evening celebrating reading, and doing for adults what World Book Day does for kids.
The BBC devoted a whole evening of programming to World Book Night, there were more than 400 events held across the UK, and a million books were given away. And in case you missed it, BBC2’s flagship arts programme The Culture Show interviewed one of our co-founders, Peter Collingridge, as part of their coverage.
Peter spoke to presenter John Mullan about digital publishing and showed off our Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro app on an iPad. You can watch his section on iPlayer (UK only), and the whole programme is really worth a look.
The Book Stops Here, a literary night run by our publicist Emma Young, was also featured on the show here, and both Peter and Emma were part of the World Book Night party at Royal Festival Hall headlined by Margaret Atwood, where Peter DJed and Emma hosted readings to a crowd of over 1000 people.
Nick Cave appeared at a huge World Book Night event in Trafalgar Square, where he read from Nabokov’s Lolita (at 15.44):
David Nicholl’s One Day, for which we produced an app, was selected as one of the twenty books being given away. And Philip Pullman, whose Northern Lights was also part of the giveaway, spoke to the BBC about World Book Night in Trafalgar Square. We created an app for The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ which you can read all about here.
Last year for World Book Day we created £1.79 apps for all the Quick Reads books. They include titles by Andy McNab, Peter James, Cathy Kelly, and a Dr Who story and are still available.
World Book Night discount 10/03/11
To celebrate World Book Night, we’re dropping the price of two of our most popular apps, Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro and Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. For the next week The Death of Bunny Munro will be £4.99 and The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ will be £7.99.
Both authors are huge supporters of World Book Night, which was established this year to celebrate reading and do for adults what World Book Day does for kids. Nick Cave appeared at a huge World Book Night event in Trafalgar Square, where he read from Nabokov’s Lolita (at 15.44):
Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights was one of the books given away on World Book Night, and he spoke to the BBC about it in Trafalgar Square:
Buy The Death of Bunny Munro in iTunes.
Buy The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ in iTunes.
Managing Risk 08/02/11
In the last two weeks Peter Collingridge, one of our co-founders, has spoken at three digital publishing conferences around the world: Digital Book World in New York (organised by “digital guru” Mike Shatzkin and F&W Media); NLPVF in Amsterdam (organised by Maarten Valken and the Dutch Foundation for Literature); and If Book Then in Milan (organised by Marco Ferrario).
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 future projects.
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) refined this 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. Volans cited 25,000 sales internationally in the first month, and with 50% of the $13.99 being split between Faber, Touch Press and Marcus Chown, it seems likely that their probably very 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 Solar System is being translated into Japanese and other languages, with foreign rights deals being handled by Faber: an old-school kind of scalability. Clever people.
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 doing.
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, but was conspicuously absent from the podium, unlike Amazon (who by and large impressed the crowd) and Google (who dramatically underwhelmed the audience and even the organisers). 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, Amazon, Google.”
The power of Apple to change fortunes on a whim was shown by the 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, which we’ve discussed previously on the blog).
Ed Nawotka, who runs the brilliant Publishing Perspectives site, 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.
We were joined in Amsterdam by the wonderful Ramy Habeeb of Egypt’s Kotobarabia who alternated between sobering comparisons with Egypt (”these are the tablets in our market” he quipped as he gave Maarten a litho block [LINK]) and the gallows humour of watching your countrymen, business, and culture’s future play out live on Twitter in Europe whilst Egypt itself had no internet access.
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.
A version of this post appeared on Futurebook on 8 February 2011.
We all know that digital books are coming, however recent news seems to indicate that their adoption is happening faster than even we expected.
Part of the reason is the rapid proliferation of the relevant hardware:
Apple sold 7.3m iPads over Christmas, effectively doubling its installed base to 14.5m. They’ve sold 160 million iOS devices in total, including 90 million iPhones.
And Amazon, without giving exact figures, has announced that the Kindle has become the most gifted item in their history, and that customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books on Christmas Day last year.
It’s also increasingly clear that consumers are warming to the idea of digital reading:
While the industry barely blinked at the news that bestselling author Nora Roberts has become the third author to sell over one million ebooks (joining Stieg Larsson and James Patterson in the ‘Kindle Million Club’), the news that Disney had downloads of over one million enhanced ebook apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch to date was more surprising.
Its Toy Story Read-Along app, which has had over 5,000 reviews already, averaging four stars, and been described as ‘the model for how children’s e-books should be done’ is marketed as a ‘fully interactive reading experience packed with Games, Movie Clips, Coloring Pages, Sing-along Tunes, and Surprises on every page’. Children can hear the story read aloud, record their own narration, or explore at their own pace.
Some observers reckon that while print book sales in the US fell 4.4% last year, it was entirely offset by an increase in the sales of ebooks.
So what does this mean for publishers? For one thing, the speed of digital adoption means that if you don’t have a point of view on digital now, you’d better get one soon.
We believe that for the publishing industry to survive (and even thrive), it needs to change its role away from managing the supply of books to bookshops and focus more on consumers and providing them great reading experiences.
To do this, publishers should consider two things:
1. Develop consumer brands and communities – finding writers for your readers rather than readers for your writers (as Seth Godin puts it). Knowing and understanding your readers will be critical in the digital future as readers try to make sense of the infinite choice available to them.
2. Embrace consumer-facing technologies and innovations that converge with other media and content – books also need to integrate into and be relevant with people’s digital lives.
Enhanced Editions co-founder Peter Collingridge will be at this year’s Digital Book World in New York telling you how to do this, talking about the importance of discovery and metadata, and reporting back on the differences between enhancement in the UK and USA, with examples from each. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter or RSS to keep in touch.
Image © Peng-Chun Lee, all rights reserved.
An editorial in the Guardian this morning talked about Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, for which we created the ebook app, calling it the perfect Christmas read and arguing that open-minded Christians will relish Pullman’s take on the nativity story:
For moralising monks and parents bankrupted by materialistic children, it is a commonplace at this time of year to bemoan the divorce between the winterval that rules the high street and the real meaning of Christmas. Happily, the book of 2010 provides a gift to reconnect the two. Philip Pullman’s take on the nativity story – which starts with Mary conceiving after an evening visit by an angel who looked “just like one of the young men who spoke to her by the well” – will not appeal to believers of a rigid bent. Nor, for that matter, will his reworking of the entire gospel as a tale of two twins, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, the one a fountain of simple virtue, the other set on building a mighty church on the foundation of “improved” truth. But open-minded Christians will relish it. The Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, hailed a “searching, teasing and ambitious narrative”, which fell short only if measured against the “still more resourceful text” of the gospels he preaches. Pullman retells the great tales of the good book in the pitch-perfect idiom of modern Bible translations, assembling such a persuasive director’s cut from official texts and ancient apocrypha that he had to emblazon “This is a Story” on the back cover to prevent the exercise from getting out of hand. Amid the carols and nativity plays, the human impulse to tell and retell tales is central to the real meaning of Christmas. Regardless of whether Pullman has anything to say about the real Jesus, he has a good deal to say about that.
Here’s the trailer for The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ:
Philip Pullman lives in Oxford with his family, where we recorded readings from a number of chapters from the book. Below is Philip Pullman reading from ‘Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane’, a pivotal chapter from The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.
Although this video didn’t make it into the final version of the app, it serves to demonstrate that Pullman reserves his scorn not for individual members of a religion, or even for religions themselves, but rather for those institutions that claim to be doing God’s work. He isn’t afraid to defend his freedom to say such things either, as the closing comments of his Oxford Literary Festival event can attest:
The enhanced edition, with the full text, the unabridged audiobook synchronised to the ebook, read by the author, and exclusive video interviews, is available for your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, and you can download it here.