Are apps marketing devices for authors and books, or a new revenue stream? This is just one of many questions publishers are asking as they develop apps from their content. When PW approached large and midsize publishers to find out about their app programs, we discovered that many houses don't have "programs" per se. Questions loom about what content is best suited for apps—though overwhelmingly it seems that reference and children's are sweet spots—and how best to look at apps. Should apps be created with the goal of bringing in money independent of books, or as tools to market books and authors? And how do publishers define an app? Many said it was simply anything that could be sold in the App Store. This may soon change, as rumors have swelled that Apple will add restrictions on what can be sold in its App Store. (Currently, a publisher can adapt an e-book and sell it in the App Store even if it doesn't feature any content added to the original.) Right now, though, publishers are dipping their feet into this market slowly and, with the exception of a few houses, cautiously.
Lorena Jones, Chronicle's publishing director for apps, said the house is moving aggressively into apps right now. The company is first focusing its development on apps based on food and drink books, and will be launching children's and entertainment apps for the Nookcolor and other platforms in 2011. In November and December, Chronicle will launch five food and drink apps, including a version of the popular backlist title The Art of the Slow Cooker, featuring video and other enhancements. Other food apps will also feature shopping and pronunciation guides for exotic foods. The median price for these apps will be $4.99. "These apps are not promotional at all," said Jones. "They're extensions of the publishing program, so we recognize that these authors have communities established, and within those communities there are consumers who have great affinity for their work." Jones also noted that, being a publisher specializing in design-heavy books, Chronicle art-directs all its apps in-house.
Hachette Book Group
Hachette has done 10 to 15 apps thus far and, like many publishers, defines an app as anything that can be sold in the App Store. The house said it's just starting to ramp up its program, feeling out which content works best as an app. Hachette is creating most of its apps in-house, though the publisher has worked with outside developers. One interesting app on the horizon, said Jim Bean, manager of creative applications and workflow, is an Ansel Adams app—Hachette is the photographer's longtime publisher—that is currently under review by Apple. Hachette worked with Adams's estate in procuring some of the content, and the app will feature Adams's letters and photos, and will also give users some creative license, such as the ability to make their own postcards. As to whether the app space is best used as a promotional tool for books or could generate revenue, Bean said no one yet knows. "Right now it's just a free space," he said, adding that everyone is still trying to figure out how best to populate it and profit from it.
HarperCollins's chief digital officer, Charlie Redmayne, said that HC has large numbers of apps developed for its many imprints in the U.S. and U.K. The development process involves the editorial team and author working with outside partners, though Redmayne speculates that HC may eventually bring development completely in-house. "Each app is treated as a completely new format," he said. The company is focusing on information publishing as well as children's books, which Redmayne views as the two areas most suited to apps. Successful HC apps include the SAS Survival Guide ($6.99) for iOS devices and various cookbook apps; HC made an app that can be customized to present multimedia content based on various cookbook titles. Redmayne also noted that it's difficult to help consumers discover products in the App Store and that he is wary of "just plunking [apps] in there."