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Your Book as an App by Richard Smith of Bowker Identifier Services

Before writing more specifically about Book Apps, we should start with a level set.

The target market for Book Apps is any reader with a device using an Android or an iOS operating system (OS).

Here are some things we know about the Book App Market:

  • According to 2012 provisional global tech device sales revenue released by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), tablet sales grew 60% and smart phones sales rose 38% in 2012. 
  • There is a growing demand for book content for the tablet, and it is forecasted that eBooks will account for half of books sold by 2014.  http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/27/e-book-reading-is-up-study-says/

While the second statistic is specifically about the demand for eBooks, it is a very telling fact about consumer appetite for content on mobile devices.

Both statistics tell us that the market is growing, and demand for book related content is also growing.

What is the difference between an eBook and a Book App?

The fundamental difference between an eBook and a Book App comes down to structure.  An eBook is a document that, when properly formatted, can be rendered by an appropriate eReader (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and so on.)  The eReader is the app, and the eBook is the content.  eReaders tend to hold multiple eBooks, which can be added and removed, or stored in an archive in the cloud, by the consumer.  

A Book App is piece of stand-alone software, where the content is static.

For example:  a Book App can be a single book, with eReader capabilities (search, a linked Table of Contents, bookmarking, and various other extras).  Building a self-contained collection of works, such as The Works of Edgar Allen Poe, with some eReader capabilities, can also differentiate a Book App from an eBook.  Unless the producers of this app change the content, and make the update available for download, the core content and functionality cannot be altered by the consumer.

If you want an App for your book, what are the challenges you will encounter?

Technology is too overwhelming for most:
For larger publishers, the creation of one or both (eBooks and Book Apps) is a moot point.  Most larger publishers have the relationships, the production staff with the technical expertise, and the budget to navigate the issues encountered when developing eBooks and Apps.  For self-publishers, a deep budget is almost never the case.

According to a survey compiled for internal use by Bowker, the number one reason self-publishers have not even created an eBook comes down to the complexity of the actions involved.  Most self-publishers do not know how to personally create an eBook and even fewer have the expertise to write programming code to create a Book App.

Price of hiring someone else to navigate the technology:
Even the most basic app, if you engage a developer to build it, will be expensive.  This is usually priced outside most budgets of the self-publisher.

Apple iOS:
For iOS applications, with minimal function and design, developing a basic app will cost an average of around $10,000.  This is likely going to be your baseline cost. For each feature added, you can expect to pay more.  When Apple updates the iOS operating system, at least once per year, expect to pay for maintenance if the app ceases to properly operate after an upgrade.

Even if you put down the money to build your app, there is no guarantee that your app will ever be available on the iTunes App store.  Once you have paid for the cost of developing an iOS application, Apple may deny your application to sell it in their store for any number of arcane reasons, which may include their judgment that your content is objectionable, or that your app does not provide any unique function above those available in native apps (iBooks).

These days, Apple will tend to reject most Book Apps if they are too close in functionality to iBooks.  Given the difficulty in getting a Book App approved by Apple, your Book App will easily exceed $10,000 if you wish to pass the App Store’s rules for approving apps for sale through their channel.

The type of iTunes Book Apps that are currently being approved will have more interactivity with the content, multimedia, narration, or are Book Stores Apps.  An example for this is the “Sesame Street eBooks for iPad” app.  The Sesame Street App has extended functionality, such as sound narration, auto page turning, and In-App Purchases.

Google Android:
Google’s Android, on the other hand, is the Wild West for app developers.  While you may still be looking at development costs of $8k to $10k, plus frequent maintenance fees, you will not have the same doubts about getting your application into the store.  In my experience with Android App Stores, not very much gets rejected.  Additionally, there are multiple Android App Stores available, which include Google and Amazon.  Unlike Apple, Google does not prevent others from creating stores selling apps for the Android markets.

The ongoing hassles involved in creating and maintaining your Book App:
Every time Apple or Google upgrades their operating system, there is a risk your app will stop working, or will crash more readily.  Consistently keeping your Book App operational requires a discipline both for maintenance and updating and testing in conjunction with the release schedules for the OS updates.  Each time an OS is updated, it will cost time and money to keep your Book App updated.

To build a successful and usable Book App you need to understand the software development cycle.  This means planning functions, designing the functions, and – when the programming is done – testing the functions.  Do all your links work?  Does your app crash a lot, and why?  Is it intuitive to use?

Many self-publishers are writing and producing books for art and expression, or to test the impact of a book on their established businesses.  Unless you are dealing with large-scale brand building, spending in excess of $20k to build apps for both operating systems will never see an adequate return to justify the expense of money and time.

For self-publishers, the only likely viable option for Book Apps would be to find a systemized platform that multiple Book Apps can leverage, utilizing the same code base.  This Book App platform is what Bowker offers with its Book As An Android App.

Now that we understand the economic and technological hurdles of the Book App, the other question you need to answer is what kind of content do you intend to put into your Book App.

Differentiating the Book App from the Book
There are two primary philosophies about how or if one needs to differentiate a Book App from what is essentially an eBook.

The first point of view will encourage developing an app because it is another way in which your book can be found. If you create an Android app it can only help your book be found in Google (SEO).  Simply having a unique product, which is discoverable on Google, probably makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  However, Google says so little about how their search engine results pages are compiled, saying this is only somewhat more than speculative.

If you follow this school of thought, the content you place into your Book App does not need to be different from the original eBook.

The second point of view is that it’s a best practice to place more ef
fort into differentiating the Book App from the Book.

Many would argue enhancing the content (in the way you would a DVD, with extra features) is where the app could shine, and would potentially increase sales, without cannibalizing the sales of your regular book.  At higher production costs, you could include video, interviews, and narrated pages.  However, not everything you do to enhance the content of your book requires extensive costs.

Here is a short list of some budget conscious ways of differentiating your book:

  • Include short stories which provide a back-story to your characters
  • Include some “deleted scenes” 
  • Write content formatted like a blog which follows the narrators daily life, even link them to hosted blog pages outside the Book App
  • Bring out your personality by writing a journal about what you were thinking when you wrote certain scenes in your book. 
  • Provide links to stores where your cookbook readers can order hard to find recipe items
  • Add links or Digital Object Identifiers to link relevant passages of your book to offline content about the house in which a historical figure spent much of their lives

Because the content is primarily textual, possibly with a few images, the cost of the content will likely not change the cost of your app the way adding video and audio might.

So should you differentiate your Book App content from your book?
From the first point of view, it doesn’t matter.  The value of your Book App is better SEO, and increased returns in the search engine results.

The second point of view says you should put more effort into adding value to the content.  The more you add value to differentiate your Book App from your Book, the greater the opportunity to create a unique sale.

My own view of these two different positions is that the first is essentially lazy.  Any SEO value gained simply by having a Book App exists regardless of which path you follow in developing content for your Book App.  Enhancing the content for your Book App is a strategy of improving conversions.

Justifying the Book App
Like any marketing effort, the decision to build an app should be justified by increasing your audience and revenue.  Revenues should indicate what type of apps you have a budget to build, and for which operating system.

Should you want a basic Android app without excessive costs, Bowker’s Identifier Services makes them available for $299/app, for the initial set-up and first year of maintenance.  Thereafter, each app costs $50/ year to maintain.  There is an additional revenue share of 50% of gross royalties.  Bowker’s Book As An Android App is available at: https://www.myidentifiers.com/bookasapp/main .

If you are interested in pursuing the eBook option, Bowker also provides the option of converting your files to work fit all the major eReaders.  For more details visit us at: https://www.myidentifiers.com/bowker_ebook_conversion_service.


Richard Smith worked for a variety of start-ups that would eventually become About.com, Waterhouse Securities’ Electronic Brokerage Services Division, and Multex.com. Multex.com was later purchased by Reuters, and he joined the company as Director of New Products, where he was involved in the consumer media marketplace to drive the change in how media companies monetize their content in an era where media information has become commoditized.
He returned west and resumed work as a consultant for a variety of media companies and aggregators, and joined Seybold Scientific as a partner in 2008 with a focus on newer product and service offerings. In addition to his work with Seybold Scientific, he continues to advise companies ranging from startup to enterprise in an ongoing effort to grow my knowledge and share my experience.
His future goals are entrepreneurial in nature. He’s always developing new ideas and vetting them with his various contacts.


This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Perry Belcher’s lifestyle co-owner/co-creator of Digital Marketer. Who is Perry Belcher what does he spend his money on? What kind of conversion testing and personal funny stories happen in the field. Survival life , absolute wealth, absolute rights, Rapid Filter. click herePerry Belcher Daily

  2. Priyota

    I am not at all lazy in my assumption. My point was not so much different than what I believe your position is. My position only changes in that there is a conversion value to differentiating the content with the differentiated experience, particularly through the value-add.

    This is not a new concept. The motion picture industry does the same with DVD releases.

  3. My own view of these a couple of diverse positions will be of which you are basically lazy. Any kind of SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION benefit acquired merely with a Publication App is present irrespective of which in turn path a person abide by inside building information to your Publication App. Increasing necessary . to your Publication App is often a method of bettering conversion rate.

    Android Tablet Apps

  4. I love the idea of book apps especially for children’s books! My brother in law works for a company called Meegenius that has a service that creates and publishes book apps. I met them at BEA last year.

  5. Thanks Elisabeth. That was a long time ago. I now work at Bowker in NJ.

    I believe that for a great many self-publishers, you will find that they will need to create a foundational brand before making a fully stocked, fully featured book app of value. Assuming 5.00 per app, you probably dont break even until you reach 2,858 apps. That said, with a more systemized app product, like we offer for Android, you are looking at a break even point of about 120 apps.

    If you have a good network, that could be valuable.

    If your taste for risk is lower, you are absolutely right. I would say that at the very minimum, however, you do need to have a MOBI and EPUB file available for reselling through the appropriate eBook retailer channels.

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