Looking out at the mobile playing field can be overwhelming to say the least—from deciding whether your best bet is to create a mobile version of your website or mobile apps to navigating the file format landscape to marketing and pricing your products. Book Business asked several industry executives who have hiked the mobile mountain successfully to share their insights on how to develop a successful mobile strategy. These 21 tips will hopefully give you some guidance, whether you're still in the "should I or shouldn't I" phase, or whether you've already launched mobile products, but feel your strategy is not necessarily concrete or working as you had hoped. A few are just extra tips you'll need to know to help ensure your products reach consumers easily and are priced to sell.
Tips from …
President, Oceanhouse Media, Inc.
1. How to decide on which platforms to launch.
As of today, there are really only two platforms of significance. You have to be on iOS (Apple devices), and you may want to be on Android. Other platforms are gaining significance quickly, but starting with an initial focus on these two will get revenue flowing.
Ultimately, your decision of where to go first (between the two) will be based on the software expertise that your team has. Apple is undoubtedly a fantastic platform for developing apps. It provides great tools and has implemented a very effective worldwide distribution network. Publishing apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch can be a lucrative market, and the ability to develop apps that are universal (buy once and then use on all your Apple devices) is a big plus, particularly for children's book apps. With Apple, all apps must meet the App Store Review Guidelines and are reviewed before they are published. This is a good way for Apple to regulate what is on the App Store, eliminating apps that either crash or have content that is objectionable. The primary downside to iOS is that the Apple App Store is extremely crowded. It is tremendously hard to get visibility for new apps. For those looking to have fewer rules and a larger target market, Google allows you to publish anything you choose on the Android Market with no review process. The catch is that with the large number of devices from different manufacturers that support a variety of operating systems and hardware specs, Android makes app development much more complex and expensive. Testing Android apps alone, for example, can be a nightmare. That said, the Google Android market is growing at a quicker pace than the Apple market, and industry sources predict this will continue for the next several years.
2. How to develop successful products.
First of all, it's critical to determine the level of interactivity for the app. For instance, what features will, and more importantly, won't be included. Establish the genre for the app (e.g., games, children's books, reference) and then be extremely careful to eliminate any "feature creep," unnecessary ideas that increase development costs, but add little value. Strive for "Five Star" ratings from customers, a vital component to an app's success. The more positive ratings, the better longevity for the app. For the children's market, the key to developing apps is to make them so user-friendly that even toddlers can manipulate the apps by themselves. Properly designing your touch screen interactivity is essential. Always design with navigation tools that are straightforward and features that do not take away from the essence of the app. For example, I've found that excluding games and animation in our children's book apps make them more successful in the long run, as the core focus remains on teaching kids how to read rather than simple entertainment.
3. How to estimate your ROI.
With the way the app market is structured, there's a good chance no one will notice your first app, and it won't be profitable. The key is to develop enough apps and to learn with each one, repeating the process until you find your niche and start turning a profit. Once you have a half-dozen or more apps, you'll get a good feel for the return on investment (ROI) on your specific apps in their particular space.
This is a crowded marketplace that is growing tremendously each day, with more than 400,000 apps currently on the App Store. Apps are price-sensitive, and low prices are encouraged. Apps that are 99 cents are competing with others that are $3.99. You can strategically play around with pricing, offering a special introductory price or putting the app on sale for a specified time. These tactics can help the app get noticed by consumers. In fact, many users regularly look for an app to go on sale before purchasing it.
4. How to monetize your apps.
It doesn't require a large amount of capital to start an app development business. Get one product to be successful even on a small scale, then repeat, execute and continue to build on that model. I've found this strategy to be much more successful than making a huge investment in one big project that might take over six months to complete. Try to get your first app up and out fairly quickly, without spending a large amount of money. Learn from it and then follow up with updates and feature enhancements as appropriate.
5. How to increase chances of success/top rankings.
You've built your app. Now it's time to build a loyal customer base. Get a few apps on the market that are well-targeted and bug-free. You'll find, in time, that you'll create a core base of loyal buyers that will look for additional apps you're developing. In turn, you'll develop name recognition and a reputation for solid, appealing and price-competitive apps. Listen to customer feedback and provide ongoing technical support, communicating regularly with end-users. With time, your overall portfolio should climb the charts.
Marketing is also key. In fact, in many ways it can be more important than the actual development cycle for true longevity of the app. A combination of a broad public relations campaign, ongoing social media outreach and responsive customer support is needed to support the app.
Additionally, develop a relationship with Apple and Google. The best way to reach the top of the charts is to have your app featured on their respective markets. This most likely will not happen with your first app, but consistent product offerings on the charts increases your likelihood that they'll take notice. This type of exposure can help your app reach the top of the charts.
Tips from …
Content Chief, Firebrand Technologies
In terms of tips for mobile strategy with regard to books, they're mostly centered around the workflow in creating those products.
6. Remember that five of the Big Six e-book vendors (Sony, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Overdrive, BN/Nook) are tech companies.
They are not approaching e-book selling in the same way traditional booksellers do. Many don't even take ONIX [ONline Information eXchange publishing protocol]. But e-book sales are growing exponentially—for some publishers, e-books are 25 percent of their business. So make sure to nurture good relationships with these vendors; adhere to their requirements, even if those requirements are outside your regular workflow. You can't afford not to.
7. Accept the fact that publishing e-books is more work.
Most publishers are putting out both print and digital editions. In print, they're publishing paperback and hardcover. In digital, they're usually publishing ePub, Kindle and PDF. Each format (both print and digital) requires its own quality assurance. More formats means more work. This is now a fact of publishing—it's more work than it used to be.
8. Don't forget that work has to be managed.
Even if you outsource much of it, it does require staff to track, supervise, hand-off [and] make sure what gets handed off does not fall through the cracks. There really isn't an easy way to magically fold digital publishing into an existing print publishing workflow—it requires a transformation in the way work gets done. This is a tough sell, internally.
9. Remember that technology tools can help, but manual work still is required.
While there are many tools out there that help with this process, none of those tools do the actual work for you. These tools help organize the workflow, streamline tasks, send reminders and keep other communications going, but the work of digital publishing in addition to print publishing still has to get done, and that means someone (or several) has to do it.
Printing books used to be a painstaking, highly manual process that over time evolved into a much more automated way of publishing; it's still early days for digital publishing and much of it remains manual. That will change, and publishers will not need so many hands in their projects—but we're not there yet.
A Tip from …
Chief Marketing Officer, Open Road Integrated Media
10. Rather than developing just for the desktop, technology allows us to develop one for all.
Our video player works on the Web, on your iPhone, on your iPad and all connected devices.
Tips from …
President, Publisher, Merriam-Webster Inc.
11. Recognize that the "Age of Also" concept is still valid.
We still have lots of things [lots of ways consumers can access content]; there is still no best way, only good ways.
12. We need to rethink what our product is.
Challenges are fundamentally different. Traditional products are at risk from apps that deliver granular content or specific benefits.
13. Be as bold with mobile apps today as we were with the Web 10 years ago.
The solution is the same. Err on the side of:
● Overinvesting in product.
● Proceeding without a clear business model. (Anathema, I know, but if we wait until we really know how much revenue we can expect, we will be very late to market.)
● Putting current revenue at risk. (We were willing to do this in the print-to-Web transition; we need to do it again in a Web-to-mobile transition.)
● Focusing on where the puck is going (i.e., not where the puck is now).
14. Realize that there is more than one way to go mobile.
Mobile sites—websites optimized for mobile devices—can be just as successful as native apps and are often easier to develop.
15. Accept that apps probably do cannibalize from other platforms, but apps let you acquire and keep a customer.
(I.e., you are not always at risk of Google directing your customer to a different service.)
16. Learn how to work with Apple.
This is probably the most important tip. (There is more good advice about this at MomsWithapps.com/2011/06/05/making-new-noteworthy.)
17. Build an installed base of users of free apps and then make use of in-app purchasing to sell paid apps to that installed base.
We can't say yet whether that will work, but it is one way of dealing with Apple's chaotic app store.
18. Take the plunge.
We are committed to free or low-price apps; we have put current revenue at risk. We have proven that we can delight users with our apps. We were/are/will be late to market. Dictionary.com had a free app long before us. Educational uses of apps are already flourishing. We still find it challenging to balance needs of Web and mobile products. We still don't have a business model that we feel confident about. We still don't invest enough in mobile; we seem more risk-averse than we were about the Web. BB