With Digital Book Application Users in the Millions—and Growing Rapidly—Should You Be Offering Apps? A Q&A about Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's pioneering efforts with mobile phone e-book applications
For e-book apps, the formats are usually PDF and ePub, which often require some kind of customization. HMH’s unique advantage in the app space, and in the digital-content space overall, has been licensing our very high-quality and sophisticated XML. The XML format is structured and flexible, and allows for all sorts of great uses for complicated print-book formats. Think of dictionaries, guidebooks, encyclopedias and textbooks.
The second reason why we’ve been able to make apps a reality is we have good insight into which companies to work with, and then how to work with them to get monetary results. We have a clear sense of what we expect to get out of the partnership, what the product can be, and realize strong customer value.
Regarding unique aspects and extras in the apps themselves, we try to ensure great design, ease-of-use and sophisticated functionality. These elements may include, for example, embedded word lookup and searching, usage history, audio enhancement and quick navigation.
Extra: What sort of return on investment is HMH seeing from its mobile applications?
Langevin: Not a lot just yet, though we’ve invested very little—a negligible amount of money, actually. Our e-book and mobile partners have pretty much absorbed development costs. But we … do put a lot of time and human resources into preparing files, or digitizing and managing electronic rights.
We’ve already had great success in the Apple App Store selling dictionary and reference apps, however. These products—mostly through our developer, Enfour Group—have grossed over a half-million dollars in sales. I attribute this to three basic things: Very high-quality brands people want and trust; excellent technology thanks to our developer partners; and being first in the market—we were the first major publisher to launch major book titles in the App Store, and one of the first big publishers in the larger mobile space.