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February 27 2012

Story first, interactivity second

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Children's book apps are among the most popular products in the iTunes app store. Persian Cat Press recently released one called "The Gift," and it's turning a lot of heads. "The Gift" was written specifically for the iPad, so it's not a repurposed product that originated in print. In this interview with Jos Carlyle, Persian Cat Press creative director, we learn more about what goes into the creation of a successful children's book app.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Exciting times for multi-sensory content — The new opportunities touch screens like the iPad offer content producers are seemingly endless. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Story first, interactivity second — The story is written first, of course, but the app's interactivity can't be treated as a last-minute add-on. The reader's interaction must be carefully woven into the story so the two are seamless. [Discussed at 8:14.]
  • Multiple reading scenarios have to be considered — The app might be read by a parent to a child, or it might just be used by a child on his or her own. Various features are included to allow either option, but they have to be implemented in a manner that doesn't feel awkward or obtrusive. [Discussed at 9:00.]
  • Addressing the discoverability problem — Persian Cat Press has taken matters into their own hands. Besides networking with popular bloggers and reviewers, they've created a free app called Cat-Nav that reviews apps and helps make them more visible. [Discussed at 15:20.]
  • What's the "right" price? — It's unfortunate, but important, to realize that book apps are competing with other types of apps, and customers have been conditioned to expect cheaper pricing across the board. The result is a richer, more dynamic product than something similar in print but at a lower price than print ... at least for now. [Discussed at 16:50.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.


Jos Carlyle will be speaking at TOC Bologna on March 18th . Registration is currently open, but the event is likely to sell out, so be sure to buy your ticket soon.


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January 23 2012

Children's ebooks and apps are big business on the iPad

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


If you look at the top paid products in the "Books" category of the iTunes App store, you'll typically see that children's products dominate the list. Children's books and apps are big business on the iPad. This will, of course, be a core focus of next month's TOC Bologna. I thought it would be nice to preview that event by talking about the state of the market in this podcast interview with Neal Hoskins (@utzy), founder of WingedChariot.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Formats and size are a challenge for this content — Even though mobile devices are getting smaller, the current iPad screen size is smaller than the print edition of many children's books, leaving the print version as a more inviting option. [Discussed at the 1:52 mark.]
  • EPUB vs. App? — Publishers face the same dilemma here as they do in other genres. Am I better off simply porting content from print to an EPUB edition, or should I invest in custom app development, native to a particular platform? [Discussed at 6:02.]
  • Languages and multi-lingual layers — Digital platforms represent an enormous opportunity for WingedChariot to extend the multi-lingual reach of their products. One of their recent apps, My House, is a great example of how the user can easily switch between French and English through the touch of a button. [Discussed at 12:50.]
  • Nothing beats hands-on research — WingedChariot has done extensive research with children on what they like about devices, apps, etc. They've also published much of this research. Sample videos are here and here. [Discussed at 14:50.]
  • Three platforms for the mid-term future — Neal sees three companies/platforms vying for the future of this market: Google, Apple and ... Microsoft. It's interesting that he doesn't include Amazon in this list although Google is, of course, the platform behind the Amazon Kindle Fire. [Discussed at 17:50.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.


Want to hear more about the children's book marketplace? Be sure to register now for TOC Bologna, which takes place on March 18th.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

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December 23 2011

Publishing News: The 99-cent problem

Here are a few stories that caught my eye in the publishing space this week.

The concern of 99 cents

Penny.jpgAuthor Melissa Foster took a look this week at the 99-cent price debate, highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly. The bad and the ugly mostly focused on how the price point affects independent authors:

If an author is self-published through Amazon KDP, he or she earns 34 cents per 99-cent book sold ... If you add up the average cover cost of $350, average editing job of $1,400, then divide by 34 cents, the author would have to sell 5,134 books just to break even, and that's nearly impossible without an additional amount for advertising.

Foster follows this by pointing out that most independent authors don't sell more than 100 copies of a book — that's a whopping $34 — and says independent authors who publish through small presses generally only pocket 12 cents per 99-cent book sold.

Employing this price point doesn't bode well for authors looking to sign with a traditional publisher, either. Foster quoted agent Jenny Bent: "... publishers are increasingly skeptical about how success at 99 cents will translate into success using their very different business model."

Author M.J. Rose also is quoted in the post, arguing that this sort of focus on price is wrong:

Readers may buy you once for 99 cents, but if they are disappointed they will never buy you again or even download you for free. On the other hand a reader will pay $4.99, $5.99 even up to $12 for an ebook of a writer whose work speaks to her. I'm seeing way too much conversation about what to charge for the book instead of how to write the book ... Quality matters more than ever.

Foster's analysis also highlighted some positive aspects of the price point, including using it as a promotional or marketing tool. An author could set the first book in a series at 99 cents, for instance, to help suck in readers — the old "the first one's (almost) free, but you'll be back" routine.

There's a lot more discussion on this debate over in the comment section of Kevin Kelly's blog post on this topic (from earlier this year). But really, the bottom line is this: the 99-cent price point is only financially viable for authors who are able to sell a boatload of books.

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SOPA, meet DeSopa

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) hearing was delayed, possibly until next year, but anti-SOPA geeks aren't waiting to see what's going to happen. Andy Greenberg reported over at Forbes that "the Internet's communities of coders and free speech advocates" are hard at work building tools to circumvent SOPA's copyright protection measures:

... a developer named Tamer Rizk has been busy building an add-on for Firefox called DeSopa, which aims to give any Firefox user access to sites that SOPA's copyright protection measures have blocked. 'This program is a proof of concept that SOPA will not help prevent piracy,' reads a note included on DeSopa's download page. 'If SOPA is implemented, thousands of similar and more innovative programs and services will sprout up to provide access to the websites that people frequent. SOPA is a mistake. It does not even technically help solve the underlying problem, as this software illustrates.'

(Note: as of publication, the DeSopa add-on had been taken down from Mozilla's site.)

Greenberg also looked at Reddit users who "have been assembling their own lists of IP addresses for key sites that might be blocked under SOPA, what some of them call the 'Emergency List'." He also has a nice discussion of SOPA's unintended consequences and the collateral damage it could cause. The piece is well worth the read.

The future of stories is here

In a post at The Atlantic, senior editor Alexis Madrigal highlighted "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" as the perfect gift for kids whose parents have an iPad. The river of book recommendations is hip deep this time of year, but the last line of Madrigal's post prodded me to check out the app: "It's what the future of stories looks like." (Hat tip to @tcarmody.)

Screenshot from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Playing with the book/app reminded me of articles predicting that the coffee-table book will make it through the digital transition relatively unscathed. I'm not so sure about that. If the beauty of the art in this book and the way it's integrated into the interactivity are an indication of future stories, print may well be in trouble on the coffee-table front as well. Imagine an iPad coffee-table book that could play music from a foreign country and teach you common phrases in the native tongue; one that could seamlessly integrate video, animation or sound with the content. Print books can't do that.

The screenshot below shows the interactivity options and more of the beautiful art:

Screenshot from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

I sure hope Madrigal is right — this book app points to a very rich future for stories, and you don't need kids (or to be a kid) to fall in love with it.

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