It’s no secret that the publishing industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years. Any shift can create a decentralization of the norm, and in the publishing world, we have seen technological development contribute to the slow demise of our beloved brick-and-mortar bookshops, as digital files, apps, and ereaders gain a foothold in the market. As an author, finding your way through this saturated marketplace is confusing, and knowing where to invest your money can be downright overwhelming. It is essential to be educated about the digital options for your book.
The difference between an ebook and an app may not be immediately clear, especially to those of us who didn’t grow up with an iPhone at our fingertips 24/7. Ebooks are electronic publications that can include both text and images, and are designed to be read on computers or on ebook reader devices like the Kindle or Nook. Ebooks are usually created through a conversion process that can be handled by the author, publisher, or an external conversion house. (For more information about ebook formats and conversion, check out our Big Bad Book Blog post on the topic.)
Alternatively, apps are made primarily for phones and tablets like the iPad. They not only provide the text of the book, like an ereader, they also add a level of interactivity. They help elevate the book reading process to an “experience” by including additional features like games, audio, or animation. Apps are usually created by a professional developer or by an app company.
As books go digital, readers experience storylines in new and engaging ways. Books as apps enable the reader to immerse themselves within the world of the narrative through interactivity and customization. Apps can arguably be termed a reinterpretation of the original text due to the additional features and functions. Here are a few popular software features as seen in recent book apps:
- shopping interface
- navigation tools
- annotation tools
- style changes
- puzzles or trivia
For instance, Jack and the Beanstalk Children’s Interactive Storybook, a wildly popular kid’s app, includes a memory matching game and interactive pictures that respond to changes in orientation. Similarly, The Cat in the Hat app allows children to touch images that prompt animations (ie: touching an image of a cloud produces raindrops along with the word ‘Wet!’).
Some genres are better suited for apps than others. Any genres that have an inherent level of interactivity—such as children’s books, cookbooks, or how-tos—will translate well to an app.
Apps can work well for less obvious genres, too. According to Media Bistro, religion, science, and law are hot genres in app sales right now. The top-ten bestselling book apps on the Android last week included four religious texts, two apps about the moon, and a training guide for police officers. Successful apps have included everything from True Ghost Stories, to The Bible, to Paco Bongo—a gecko that only eats pickles.
If you think your book might make a good app, keep the following benefits and disadvantages in mind:
- Flexibility and customization
- Multimedia additions (see software features list above)
- Interactivity: A great example of interactivity is the app for SAS Survivor Guide; features include using a phone’s flashlight function to mimic a Morse Code signal.
- New markets for content: Since book apps sit alongside non-book apps on iTunes and other app retail sites, there is an opportunity to grow your target audience through exposure as consumers browse titles.
- Convenience: If you have a question about an unknown word, or want to highlight a special passage to tweet to all of your friends, voila! The app can do everything for you without having to set down your read.
- Availability on multiple platforms: if you want your book app available on many platforms, you must produce different versions of the app for software compatibility. A few different platforms include iOS app (iPhone and iPad), android, and apps for desktops (ex: custom API’s).
- Cost: potentially thousands upon thousands per platform.
- Visibility in the market: customers may be looking in bookstores instead of app stores.
- Early retirement: technology moves fast. Apps become obsolete quickly as platforms upgrade versions and device models. Each upgrade may mean more costs if you want to create compatible versions of your book app to match the new versions.
- Compliance problems: some of these issues include questions of integrating book apps into metadata systems, such as if book apps will have ISBN’s; whether or not apps should be registered with the Library of Congress; and who owns intellectual property of the book app.
As exciting as all this sounds, book apps are essentially still in an emerging stage. Publishing houses experimenting with book app development have tweaked and formed content, but still need to see whether or not there will be a return on investment after production costs.
Take into consideration the cost-to-benefit ratio before making a decision on whether or not to make your book into an app. Again, your goal is to make your book as successful as possible, to deliver it to as many people as possible, and to generate as much profit as possible. What kind of book are you producing? Will interactivity, hyper linking, and multimedia increase your sales? Consider your budget. Will you be able to invest in marketing for both your physical book and your book app? Is an app going to increase your sales enough to cover development costs?
Make it worth the cash. Don’t spend money and time developing an app with one or two functions. Build it up with software features and an interesting design. Otherwise, you might be better off sticking to an ebook.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to make your book into an app, Media Bistro is hosting a Publishing App Expo December 7-8 in New York City.
Have you seen a great book app recently? Tell us what you like about it in the comments below.