Guest Column: Lessons in App Publishing
Digital, interactive book apps are booming, especially in the children's space, making this an exciting time to be an app publisher. While some book publishers may still view the app market as uncharted territory with unknown return on investment, I see the app market as fertile ground with opportunities for tremendous growth as new devices are introduced at a rapid pace.
So, how do you take advantage of these opportunities? As an app publisher, here are some of the key lessons that I've learned in the past two years.
'Quality Is Everything'
First, product quality is everything, especially with the app market's competitive nature. Our company has an internal motto: "Five Stars or No Stars." We aim to deliver apps that will receive five-star user ratings, or we do not ship the app. We pay extreme attention to detail—a compelling set of features, an intuitive user experience, professional narration and audio, and bug-free code. Apple's App Store alone currently offers more than 300,000 apps, and a digital publisher will be judged by the quality and functionality of each app in its catalog.
Next, developing our own technology was key, designing it from the ground up to support the specific features that we deemed important. In a sense, apps are living, breathing entities. You don't release an app and walk away (as you might with a traditional book). It needs to be updated and supported. Users also expect feature upgrades over time. By developing and owning our own technology, we had the ability to control all aspects of development, and to port to new platforms. We started by building a number of unique app engines from scratch for the iPhone, which gave us an advantage when we had to adapt these apps for the iPad. Android was tougher, but still manageable. From here, developing apps for other new devices will get easier. The company has been structured to encourage nimble and agile product development, avoiding lengthy development cycles.
As important as development is, we also pay the utmost attention to the roles marketing and customer support play in building and maintaining a mobile audience. We incorporate cross-promotion strategies between apps to let our audience know when new titles are introduced. For instance, if you purchased a Dr. Seuss app, we'll let you know when other Dr. Seuss titles are available. We keep our customers posted on what's happening daily with our company via Facebook and Twitter, and provide technical support and regular software updates.
We listen to customer feedback and have made enhancements to many of our apps. For example, customers didn't feel they should have to pay for an app twice just to get it to run on their iPads and also on their iPhones. Therefore, our apps are universal for iOS devices—you buy it once, and it runs on your iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad in the highest resolution possible for each device.
In addition to a loyal customer base, we have established strong relationships with key publishing houses and authors. Working with immensely popular brands like Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Little Critter, Five Little Monkeys and more has given us the ability to reach many customers quickly. Even so, ultimately the apps' quality and pricing determine our success or failure.
Apps are a new product form with incredible price sensitivity. If you look at the rankings in the App Store, low prices are highly encouraged. The nature of digital distribution warrants this competitive pricing. We've been able to achieve reasonably priced apps by omitting superfluous animation and games in our children's book apps, keeping production costs down. We believe this conscious effort to separate our reading apps from our gaming and entertainment apps has been a successful strategy. For our children's apps, our main goal is to educate first and entertain second. If a feature doesn't work toward that goal, then most often it is eliminated.
The Future of App Publishing
Where is mobile app publishing headed? We're just scratching the surface in terms of technology and enhanced capabilities. Children's books on mobile devices are exploding. The biggest opportunity for app publishers in this space will be children's book apps for the iPad. Without a doubt, we are seeing more creative development and experimentation in this space than in any other category thus far.
Although no one can predict how long the app market will continue to grow at this rate, one thing is certain: Digital books apps are here to stay. BB
Michel Kripalani is founder and president of Oceanhouse Media Inc., a developer and publisher of apps for the mobile market.
➜ ➜ Don't miss the Mobile Strategy Summit for Book Publishers at the Publishing Business Conference, April 4-6, in NYC. Visit PublishingBusiness.com for more information.