Lately there’s been a lot of hubbub surrounding the emergence of “book as app.”
Sure it sounds exciting, but is the book app here to stay, or merely the current IT GIRL in publishing’s endless search for the next big thing? What can an app do that a book can’t? Is an app inherently better than other ways of experiencing book content?
Well, that depends. The short answer might be: maybe and sometimes, and if the two companies profiled below are any indication of what book apps can be, then I’d be willing to wager that the book as app is here to stay.
Yey! Another silly name for a digital publishing offering! Though, in all fairness, the Vook was the Vook before the nook was the nook. Anyway, what exactly is a vook?
In the words of Vook’s VP of Marketing and Brand Director, Matthew Cavnar, “A vook is a new innovation that blends a book with videos into one complete story. Vooks are currently available in a browser based version and as an application for your iPhone or iPod touch.”
(Editor’s Note: So, it’s acutally not just an iphone app, as it’s also available via the world wide web – and this blows my whole “books as apps” approach to this article, but whatever. It’s still an app, too.)
Vook launched its first titles with Simon and Schuster and recently released Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It! with Harper Studio. Relationships with other publishers are underway. Beyond the very cool multimedia features of vooks, a notably appealing feature of currently available vooks are their price tags. HarperStudio has priced both browser based and iphone app versions of the Crush It! vook at $11.99.
Simon and Schuster has priced each of their five currently available vooks (three lifestyle titles, as well as Promises by romance author Jude Deveraux, and the thriller Embassy by Richard Doetsch) at $6.99. Neither publisher is offering their vook titles as bundled content with ebooks or printed versions of the books, though HarperStudio considered it, and may bundle future titles.
Cavnar says that Vook works to set pricing with the publisher and is open to a variety of pricing models and discussions, and it appears that publishers are experimenting to determine the right price for a Vook. When pricing the Crush It! vook, HarperStudio tried not to let the current industry pricing obsession dictate their decision. Says HarperStudio’s Debbie Stier, “In the end, the market will tell you what it should be. And as a really smart person told me, let’s not let the legacy issues get in the way of innovation.”
Stier is thrilled with the Crush It! vook. What impresses her most about the vook experience? Offers Stier, “The fact that it’s really well thought out placement of the videos with the text…..and the videos (produced by Vook) are really well made. It’s an added dimension. It’s not just any old video slapped in there. And also, the technology is very impressive. In theory it seems like that should be easy….but it’s not…..or else others would have done it as I know a lot had been talking about it for a long time.”
According to Vook’s Cavnar, Stier is not alone in her enthusiasm sharing, “Publisher reaction has also been overwhelmingly positive as publishers recognize that vook offers new and innovative opportunities for an industry dealing with its share of difficulties. ”
Though undoubtedly hobbled by their lack of a silly name, Enhanced Editions is a cool little company across the pond that launched recently with their first iphone app for Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro.
The EE Bunny app features all manner of…features: narration, a “soundtrack” for the story, video clips of the author, ability for users to share passages of the book via email, synced bookmarking across the various media included in the book, a newsfeed, and some that I’m sure I’m forgetting — all of which are opt-in for the user.
Enhanced Editions follwed up the Bunny release with iphone app books for Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Though significantly less feature-rich than the media-loaded Bunny app, the pricing of each reflects that (Bunny retails for $25 in the app store, while the Obama titles are each available in the UK app store for £4.99 – about half the price of the current print edition).
Peter Collingridge of Enhanced Editions believes where ebook apps are concerned, pricing is a huge issue. “Even on the app store this is a rapidly changing environment,” says Collingridge. “What is right today may not work tomorrow. I think for us this means getting much closer to customers and readers and trying to get a strong idea of what they want and the right price for it.”
Like Vook, Enhanced Editions works closely with publishers in establishing pricing for their book apps. Collingridge adds, “I think everyone – publishers, authors, agents, retailers – is looking to find the best models that work, and I don’t think there is a simple answer, so we try to look at it holistically and respond accordingly. That means close collaboration with the publisher on price.”
So, do all books have a future as an app? Collingridge doesn’t necessarily think so, commenting, “Our view is that just releasing them as ebooks is not the answer, they merit good creative thinking and marketing to connect them to their target audience. Features help but not as an end in themselves.”
What he does believe is that publishers should look beyond thinking of book apps merely as “book” apps: “I think what is exciting is that rights holders are beginning to see the potential for ‘content’ being served as apps rather than book apps,” he says. “For example if you look at the recent Jamie Oliver app , that’s very smart as from one perspective it is what we call ‘post-book; it is content that could have been delivered via a book, but is actually delivered as an app without being marketed in the app store book category. That’s really exciting.”
Enhanced Editions has found publisher and reader response to be overwhelmingly positive, but they recognize that discoverability is a big hurdle and collaborating closely with the publisher on marketing for a title is crucial. Says Collingridge, “It’s a really obvious thing to say, but the mix between product, features, timing and marketing are paramount. I don’t think any of this is new to publishers or developers, I’m just amazed at how relevant the insights from traditional publishing are to how you sell on the app store.”