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March 21 2012

No more book app sifting: PlayTales designed its bookstore within an app

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


A quick look at the bestsellers on the iPad indicates that kids books are a hot area. PlayTales is one of the leaders in this space, and I recently got to speak with their marketing and PR manager, Anna Abraham. If you're not familiar with PlayTales, you'll want to check out their free bookstore iPad app in iTunes. In this interview, Abraham talks about what makes PlayTales unique and describes how they've embraced the opportunities in children's ebook publishing.

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

  • It all starts with discoverability — PlayTales is a store within an app. It's a one-stop option for parents, which helps them avoid the frustration of sifting through the app store. [Discussed at the 1:00 mark.]
  • Going beyond a single platform — Most publishers in this space are focused on iOS and little else. While the iPad is the dominant tablet platform (for now, at least), PlayTales is wisely investing in other platforms as well. [Discussed at 2:01.]
  • Most of their content is digital-first — Repurposing is tempting, but as PlayTales has found, a digital end-product is often best started from scratch. This approach also helps avoid some of the licensing and rights pitfalls that can come from reuse, especially when that existing content was contracted in the pre-digital era. [Discussed at 2:54.]
  • Exclusive vs. non-exclusive — You might be surprised to hear that PlayTales contracts with their authors on a non-exclusive basis. They believe they can earn an author's loyalty by being a great publishing partner. What a concept! [Discussed at 3:35.]
  • Impressive stats — With approximately 1.5 million book reads per month and 3-5K new downloads per day, PlayTales is already reaching a sizable audience. More importantly, approximately 19% of the people who download the free app become paying customers as well. [Discussed at 4:20.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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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.


Related:

February 02 2012

Four short links: 2 February 2012

  1. Beautiful Buttons for Bootstrap -- cute little button creator, with sliders for hue, saturation, and "puffiness".
  2. CMU iPad Course -- iTunes U has the video lectures for a CMU intro to iPad programming.
  3. Inspiring Matter -- the conference aims to bring together designers, scientists, artists and humanities people working with materials research and innovation to talk about how they work cross- or trans-disciplinarily, the challenges and tools they've found for working collaboratively, and the ways they find inspiration in their work with materials. London, April 2-3.
  4. Facebook's S-1 Filing (SEC) -- the Internets are now full of insights into Facebook's business, for example Lance Wiggs's observation that Facebook's daily user growth is slowing. While 6-10% growth per quarter feels like a lot when annualized, it is getting close to being a normal company. Facebook is running out of target market, and especially target market with pockets deep enough to be monetised. But I think that's the last piece of Facebook IPO analysis that I'll link to. Tech Giant IPOs are like Royal Weddings: the people act nice but you know it's a seething roiling pit of hate, greed, money, and desperation that goes on a bit too long so by the end you just want to put an angry chili-covered porcupine in everyone's anus and set them all on fire. But perhaps I'm jaded.

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 26 2011

Four short links: 26 December 2011

  1. Pattern -- a BSD-licensed bundle of Python tools for data retrieval, text analysis, and data visualization. If you were going to get started with accessible data (Twitter, Google), the fundamentals of analysis (entity extraction, clustering), and some basic visualizations of graph relationships, you could do a lot worse than to start here.
  2. Factorie (Google Code) -- Apache-licensed Scala library for a probabilistic modeling technique successfully applied to [...] named entity recognition, entity resolution, relation extraction, parsing, schema matching, ontology alignment, latent-variable generative models, including latent Dirichlet allocation. The state-of-the-art big data analysis tools are increasingly open source, presumably because the value lies in their application not in their existence. This is good news for everyone with a new application.
  3. Playtomic -- analytics as a service for gaming companies to learn what players actually do in their games. There aren't many fields untouched by analytics.
  4. Write or Die -- iPad app for writers where, if you don't keep writing, it begins to delete what you wrote earlier. Good for production to deadlines; reflective editing and deep thought not included.

November 28 2011

Keeping Safari Books on top

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Andrew Savikas (@andrewsavikas) is one of the brightest minds in the content industry. His extensive work on O'Reilly's production toolchain as well as having been chair of the Tools of Change conference will serve him well in his new role as Safari Books Online CEO. Safari was built before the influx of mobile devices affected our industry, but Andrew is making sure the service evolves with the needs of its customers. As Safari celebrates its 10th anniversary, Andrew talks in this podcast interview about what lies ahead and how Safari will remain on top.

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

  • Mobile devices have had a significant impact on Safari — It's not just about iPads and mobile phones, though. A good deal of Safari content is also consumed via eInk devices like Kindles and Nooks. [Discussed at the 0:49 mark.]
  • iPad usage patterns differ from desktop patterns — Length of session and use at different times of the day distinguish the typical iPad-based Safari user from the desktop user. Deeper content dives happen via the iPad app as well. [Discussed at 2:06.]
  • The iPad app drives more Safari usage — Subscribers aren't substituting desktop access for iPad app access. The numbers indicate subscribers are accessing Safari more when they utilize the iPad app. [Discussed at 3:49.]
  • Video has rapidly become an important component of the Safari experience — And it's particularly attractive to iPad app users. [Discussed at 5:57.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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

Related:


October 26 2011

Four short links: 26 October 2011

  1. CPAN Turns 0x10 -- sixteenth anniversary of the creation of the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network. Now holds 480k objects.
  2. Subtext -- social bookreading by adding chat, links, etc. to a book. I haven't tried the implementation yet but I've wanted this for years. (Just haven't wanted to jump into the cesspool of rights negotiations enough to actually build it :-) (via David Eagleman)
  3. Questions to Ask about Election Polls -- information to help you critically consume data analysis. (via Rachel Cunliffe)
  4. Technologies, Potential, and Implications of Additive Manufacturing (PDF) -- AM is a group of emerging technologies that create objects from the bottom-up by adding material one cross-sectional layer at a time. [...] Ultimately, AM has the potential to be as disruptive as the personal computer and the internet. The digitization of physical artifacts allows for global sharing and distribution of designed solutions. It enables crowd-sourced design (and individual fabrication) of physical hardware. It lowers the barriers to manufacturing, and allows everyone to become an entrepreneur. (via Bruce Sterling)

September 26 2011

Amazon's "Prime" challenger to the iPad

Amazon Kindle logoIf you haven't noticed, creating and executing mobile platform plays is really hard. Just ask HP, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft.

Even Google's Android, which made it look easy to grab dominant market share in the smartphone market, is finding it much harder to secure a footprint in the tablet market, where, let's face it, there's iPad ... and iPad.

Enter Amazon, whose forthcoming Kindle Tablet represents the clearest alternative to Apple's iPad.

Securing the design win

I once co-founded a device management platform company in the embedded systems space (Rapid Logic) where we came to define three core precepts for succeeding in a platform-oriented business:

  1. Secure the design win.
  2. Grow the dollars associated with the runtime (via royalties or new product add-ons).
  3. Get the customer to want to embed themselves more deeply.

Flash forward to the present and we see a post-PC device market emerging that has revealed some interesting attributes.

For one, we see how the carrier-dependent mobile phone segment logically bifurcates between the Apple approach (vertical integration) and the Android approach (horizontal, loose coupling).

Why is this so? For the simple reason that for a large portion of the market, carrier "push" via phone pricing — plus a subsidy combined with a retail presence — dictates buying patterns every bit as much as product positioning and differentiation.

Most fundamentally, this is because regardless of whether the end phone is an iPhone or an Android phone, A) the buyer is already a mobile phone subscriber, and B) either phone represents a step up from traditional feature phones.

However, when we move into tablet-style devices, ebook and media device players, where the alternative is non-consumption (i.e., buying no device), it becomes clear that the breadth and depth of ecosystem orchestration that is required goes up materially.

This is why Android has not yet found a foothold in the tablet market (see also: Android's Missing Leg).

Cloud Street meets Main Street

Now, consider Amazon, the ecommerce company that many have officially anointed as this generation's Walmart (see chart below: Walmart, Amazon, Google and Apple head-to-head over the past 10 years).

Comparison of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Wal-Mart over a 10-year period
A comparison of Walmart, Amazon, Google and Apple from October, 2001 to August, 2011. See a larger version and read related analysis.

Amazon, in fact, just experienced its fastest revenue growth quarter in over a decade (up 51% versus the same period in 2010). It is unquestionably on a roll.

To establish the scale and market presence that Amazon has on "Cloud Street" in about one-third of the time it took for Walmart to dominate "Main Street" is nothing short of amazing.

Simply put, it's emblematic of a company whose ability to marry a clear, disciplined strategy with a pragmatic focus on tactical execution knows few bounds.

Kindle as an entry point for a new tablet design

Amazon's Kindle reading device has catapulted the company into a position where it's now selling more digital books than print books, all at a time when the physical bookstore is on its last legs (Borders is gone, Barnes & Noble is for sale).

Now, having proven that it can execute a hardware-software-service play vis-à-vis the Kindle, Amazon is expected to announce its first iPad competitor in a matter of days.

Such a device will build upon several "unfair advantages" that Amazon has established in the marketplace:

  • Ecommerce and marketplace logistics.
  • Digital media content acquisition, publishing and distribution.
  • Cloud computing platform know-how and a nascent ecosystem.

Just as Apple has leveraged its iTunes as the wedge upon which it established a billing relationship with 160 million users, Amazon has built a differentiated position of its own called Amazon Prime.

Amazon's "Prime Directive"

Amazon Prime illustrationReturning to the start of the article, remember the success mantra that I told you about for my company? You can apply the same logic when looking at how Amazon matches up to Apple.

Apple's initial innovation with iTunes was that it afforded consumers the ability to purchase music à la carte — one single at a time — when up until that point it could only be purchased in record or CD form. Coupled with a $0.99 per song pricing model and the unparalleled convenience of click-buy-play, this was a recipe to change the way that customers bought and experienced music.

Similarly, Amazon's initial innovation with Amazon.com was that it enabled people to discover, purchase and transparently receive a seemingly bottomless wellspring of books, where formerly you pretty much only got what was on the shelves in the bookstore.

Like Apple, Amazon used a disruptive pricing and logistics model to entice customers to change their buying behavior.

That Apple has expanded iTunes into an App Store (and iBooks) and a family of devices bound by a common software platform, and Amazon has expanded its catalog to products and services of all stripes (analog and digital), makes perfect sense in this context.

From the initial "design win" of music buying and book buying, both companies have grown the categories and aggregate dollars of their bases in ways that have made consumers want to be more deeply embedded in their relationships with Apple and Amazon.

The Amazon Prime product has cultivated a base of an estimated five million subscribers (from the company's aggregate base of 120 million customers) that, in exchange for an annual $79 fee, provides expedited shipping on many products.

Why is this a big deal? The friction-free model is enticing some customers to use Amazon for product purchases (e.g., bulk goods, toiletries) that historically have been the parlance of the local Walgreens or Costco.

So, if MG Siegler of TechCrunch is correct in his excellent scoop on Amazon's Kindle Tablet, then Amazon will be bundling Amazon Prime with its forthcoming 7-inch tablet device and pricing the device at a disruptively low price point of $250 — about half the cost of an entry-level iPad.

If you create a superset between Kindle buyers and Prime subscribers, a logical early-adopter user base emerges for Amazon to target for its iPad alternative (in terms of price, footprint and aggregate value proposition).

Plus, from a strategic leverage perspective, it makes total sense. Amazon, after all, is first and foremost a great retailer.

Add on to this value proposition the fact that Amazon has surrounded its Prime offering with an ever-growing free library of bundled video content (i.e., a poor man's Netflix streaming service), and the Kindle Tablet starts to feel like a lifestyle device that can succeed over the long haul.

After all, media is a big differentiator on this type of device. And in terms of sheer economics, there are a lot of people these days for whom a bundled video service with a pay-as-you-go library of premium music, books, video and app offerings feels right at $250.

No less, if we know anything about Amazon, it is that it, like Apple, has the fortitude, focus and sense of purpose to see big ideas through to long-term success.

Amazon, after all, wants to be the only shopping cart you'll ever need, and this becomes another channel back to the consumer.

Plus, from an average revenue per user perspective (ARPU), you can probably subsidize the device a bit more with the Prime subscriber, knowing that Prime customers are already paying $79 a year and are faithful, dedicated, recurrent commerce customers.

Some final thoughts:

Just because Amazon has a logical path to finding a "wedge" in the tablet computing market doesn't mean that it will. There are hard strategic decisions about how to fork Android and how that ties in with Amazon's Appstore strategy, including approaches to competing services (e.g., will Amazon allow Nook or iBooks to be installed?).

Moreover, is Amazon prepared to develop and support a software developer's kit (SDK) and get sucked into a developer tools arms race with Apple?

Similarly, how does Amazon Web Services and Amazon's cloud platform fold into the equation?

Like I said at the start, mobile platforms are really hard to create and execute, but if anyone is in a position to do just that, it's Amazon.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD


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September 14 2011

Promoting free downloads to increase revenue

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months.


In a recent interview with O'Reilly publisher Joe Wikert, Nelson Saba, CEO of Immersion Digital, talked about his company's Glo Bible app. The app has a free version and a $49.99 upgrade to a premium version. Saba said he was pleasantly surprised at the upgrade conversion success, saying that they experience a 7 to 13% conversion rate, and that the freemium model isn't as much of a struggle as publishers might think.

When you get very good conversion ratios, all of a sudden you find yourself in the business of promoting free downloads, which is much easier than selling a product ... Conversion ratios are a function of platform, country, price point — for each country in a certain platform, by adjusting the price you can get good conversion ratios ... you also should have multiple in-app upgrades because different upgrades will resonate more with different platforms. Once you hit a conversion ratio that you like, you can bet that that's going to stay steady despite the volume of downloads ... but it varies a lot from platform to platform. [Discussed at the 6:10 mark.]

For more on the success of the Glo Bible app and how modern technology can be used to enhance even timeless content, you can view the interview below.


TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.



Save 100€ off the regular admission price with code TOC2011OR


Related:


  • What ebook designers can learn from Bible-reading software
  • The iPad's ripple effect
  • What publishing can learn from tech startups

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