Kate with Made In Me’s Erik Huang
Yesterday evening, Tom and I went to the heart of start-up London to the Hoxton Hotel to a London Book Fair Tech Tuesday event sponsored by Made In Me.
The question of the evening was, “Are Apps Complementing or Cannibalising Publishers’ Content?”
The speakers were:
Dean Johnson from Brand Width
Stuart Dredge from The Guardian and Apps Playground, guest blogger for Nosy crow and author of the iBook, 100 Best iPad Apps for Kids
James Huggins from Made In Me
Louise Rice from Touch Press.
Rather than attempt to pull together a blow-by-blow account of the evening, I thought that it might be interesting just to share verbatim soundbites from each of the speakers.
“We’re quite happy to move on without , but we’d like you to catch up.”
He told a story about going to the Bologna Book Fair a couple of years ago, and, at the end of the conference before the fair (at which I spoke, actually) an Italian publisher had rounded off the conference by saying that apps were a waste of money. The publisher had invested 50,000 Euros. He said they had “failed to make a good product; failed to understand their audience; and failed to tell their audience about the app they’d made”.
“The app market wants nearly everything for nearly nothing.”
“You can have an amazing reading experience with a paperback.”
“You can’t immediately think that people who buy books will buy apps.”
Stuart emphasised how young the app market was and how much opportunity for experimentation and new kinds of creativity lay ahead, predicting that we’ll see a generation of children who will choose to tell their stories through websites, apps and games, saying he’d visited a school where primary school children were learning basic coding using Hopscotch.
“Rather than asking how can we take a book and turn it into an app, how do we tell a story in a new way? Can an app deliver a story itself differently, not deliver a story and some additional stuff round the story. The starting point will hopefully be storytelling, conceived as an app from the beginning: it’s not over yet.”
He said that children’s apps were a particular “melting pot” involving story and games, and he cited Rovio and Nosy Crow as developers blurring the story/game line.
Stuart said that he saw “children as creators” as an important trend in apps, citing Me Books as an example of this, and suggesting that Julia Donaldson, who opposes app versions of her books, might find an app that allowed children to retell the Gruffalo story themselves more interesting.
Stuart said that it just a question of whether apps were cannibalising publisher’s content. Outside the industry, the fear was that apps were cannibalising reading.
“Reviews don’t generate as many downloads as App Store promotion, which doesn’t generate as many downloads as word of mouth.”
“It’s maybe better to talk to 50 mum bloggers than to talk to 3 journalists.”
“400,000 of Tesco’s Hudl tablets were sold in the run-up to Christmas.”
Stuart said that this was the first Christmas he’d heard parents say they were planning to by tablets not for the family to share, but specifically for their children.
Stuart spoke about the following apps which were new kinds of storytelling: Blackbar; Papers, Please; Papa Sangre 2; Device 6.
He also spoke about examples of online storytelling such as Black Crown.
He touched on opportunities for social reading, asking what the book equivalent of Rap Genius would look like.
“Everyone – in film, in music, in books – wants to know what the future is of the industry they’re in… The future of the book is… the book.”
“It all starts with the story. Even marketing. Marketing is the story of the story.”
“An app is not a broadcast channel.”
“Apps end up in the marketing budget because that’s where you put the things that don’t make any money.”
“You see a lot of, ‘there’ll be a new kind of reading experience’, but there are no different kinds of reading experience. I see people running into the space saying they will redefine the book and floundering.”
“Ever since we started, we have been trying to solve the commercial riddle of the space.”
“In many cases, publishers are quite right to be cautious about investing in the app space.”
“Initially, Made In Me was a content proposition, but now Made In Me sees itself as a channel: apps not as content but as a route to a customer.”
“The app space will be seized upon for distribution and marketing rather than for content development.”
He lamented the vagueness of the term “app”: “A book is a format – you know what to expect. An app is not a format – you don’t know when you download an app how it might work. From one app to another, it’s hard to learn the rules. We need to educate the market with consistent experiences.” This is why, I guess, each Me Book works the same way as every other Me Book.
“When it comes to cannibalisation, it isn’t about formats, it’s more a question of competition for their time.”
James recounted that when he was playing at making a story with his seven year-old daughter, rather than writing a back cover blurb, she wrote an app description, and gave it five stars, so his daughter is part of a generation who might, as Stuart suggests, tell stories differently, perhaps using apps technology, or a successor of apps technology.
James acknowledged that analysts talk about the app space favouring casual gaming rather than creative content, but, said, that though there were, of course, high profile examples talking about the very high-profile success of some games, points out that “people forget about the commercial mortality rate of games” – i.e. how few of the ones thrown at the wall actually stick.
On marketing apps, he says, “The more we have tried to understand the app space, the more we see that it is similar to print”.
He spoke about the way that, in the experience of Made In Me, App Store promotion worked, saying that it was “tap-on, tap-off, with no echoing effect”, so the sales spike was sharp and short.
Quoted a McGraw Hill executive at the Digital Book World conference in New York this month quoting a teacher: “My school has bought an iPad for every pupil. What am I expected to do wth it?”
“The app, the iPad, does things that the book can’t do.”
Touch Press hadn’t made an Android version of Disney Animated “because the marketplace and the technical capability aren’t there”.
“Apple keeps all the customer information, so that make it hard to understand who the audience is.”
I know that this blog post is a bit fragmented, but I thought that there were some really well-expressed nuggets here. I don’t agree with all of them by any means, but I found them provocative and interesting and useful, even if just to clarify my own thinking. I hope you do too.