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Marketing Book Content Profitably as an App

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This screen from an entry in my San Francisco app product differs from a page in the book in several ways. The viewer can click into a cluster of photos; the map opens up as GPS-enabled, showing where the viewer is and where other things are that the viewer might want to see; and the text has live links to information sources beyond the app (they’re further down in this entry).

Marketing Book Content Profitably as an App

by Lee Foster

Can an IBPA member transform the content of a printed book into an app and earn a dollar or two?

The short answer is yes, based on my own experience. But the issues are complicated, and the path is not simple or smooth.

The good news is that one of my three apps sold 957 units in a recent 30-day period. This meant a royalty payment to me of $574.20, since the royalty rate is 30 percent of the $1.99 list, or 60 cents per sale, or 60 × 957. You might be able to replicate this success.

My best-selling app is San Francisco Travel and Photo Guide (Sutro Media, $1.99) in the Apple iTunes App Store (sutromedia.com/apps/sfphotoguide).

I know you have a dozen questions at this point, so let me step back for a minute and clarify some things.

Apps and App-Apps

First, there are different kinds of “apps.” The word is used loosely now, suggesting anything that sells in the Apple iTunes App Store. (Google Android is another world. A publisher needs to develop separate software systems for Apple and for Google.)

The first kind of app is what I call an e-book style app. This is an app that is a direct facsimile of a printed book. I have one such app out, for a book I independently published.

That app is an e-book version of my award-winning travel literary book Travels in an American Imagination: The Spiritual Geography of Our Time (IndiaNIC, $2.99; itunes.apple.com/us/app/travels-in-an-american-imagination/id372369132?mt=8). The parallel printed book can be seen on the lower right side of my page at fostertravel.com and on Amazon.

My partner in this venture is a company known as IndiaNIC. They are experts at facsimile book conversion to apps. The people are Urvish Patel (urvish@indianic.com) and Rakesh Patel (rakesh@indianic.com). I invested zero dollars.

IndiaNIC has the conversion software, and I have the content product. The deal is 35 percent of list to the author. I set the price at $2.99 for this e-book-style app, compared to $14.95 for my printed book. Pricing is a controversial issue. I think we will need to price electronic products quite low to get sales.

Second, there are apps that take full advantage of the software functionality that can be imagined and built for the iPhone and other mobile devices. Let’s call them “app-apps.” My travel app on San Francisco falls into this group.

The publisher, Sutro Media, focuses entirely on my specialty, travel guides. But you can browse around the Apple iTunes App Store to see the publishers/developers working in your area of book interest. (The publisher is listed at the bottom of each app, usually with a link you can use to make contact.)

My deal with Sutro is that I invest zero dollars. They have the software, and I have the travel writing/photography content. My royalty rate is 30 percent of list. The contact person is Kim Grant (kim@sutromedia.com).

At this writing, my San Francisco app has been a bestseller in travel in the App Store for a month, ranking between #40 and #50 among all paid travel apps, of which there are now more than 11,000. I think this success stems from two things. First, I have publicized the app. And second, I have been fortunate. Someone at Apple likes my San Francisco app, declaring it a Staff Favorite on the front page of the App Store.

My San Francisco app has little resemblance, beyond subject, to my printed travel book on San Francisco. That book is The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them (Countryman Press, $14.95; fostertravel.com/shop/?category=1&product_id=2).

The app is as different from the book as a radio show or a video would be. I mention the differences to get you focused on the functionality possible in apps, beyond printed books.

With the Sutro Media software, for example, my app takes the subject, San Francisco, and presents it in new ways. The app has 500 photos; the book has 75. The app runs with highly useful GPS maps, showing you where you are and where you might want to go. The book, of course, has merely static maps. The text in the app has clickable links, something impossible in the book. User comments can be incorporated into the app, if I choose, but that would also be impossible in a book. This just begins to suggest the differences.

The next version of Sutro software may well allow my voice and video in the product.

But the fact that one app sells well does not mean that another app will, even if it’s very similar. For example, I have an app titled DC Travel and Photo Guide (Sutro Media, $1.99; sutromedia.com/apps/DC_Travel_Photo_Guide) that is getting a couple of sales a day. I am waiting for some wondrous viral boost from somewhere in cyberspace. Maybe a Chinese or Japanese tour company will select my DC app as their recommendation to all their iPhone-carrying clients.

Apps Around the World

Which brings me to one major difference between books and apps. My San Francisco book will probably never sell beyond North America. My San Francisco app has sold in 42 different countries. Suddenly, one begins to imagine selling to the 6.8 billion people on the planet.

It is not easy to sell apps, just as it is not easy to sell printed books. Any suggestion that app selling is a slam-dunk is not helpful. In my field, travel journalism, every CVB and travel promotion organization is rushing to develop its free apps, which will compete. And among the paid-app sellers, competition will be intense.

But the new app technology does allow us to think in terms of new markets. Apps can be sold worldwide, and instantly to the impulse buyer, if the price is fairly moderate. The aesthetics of the reading experience on mobile devices also continues to improve. Possibly, there is a profitable app in your publishing future.

Lee Foster, an IBPA member and an award-winning travel writer and photographer, has won eight Lowell Thomas Awards. On his Foster Travel Publishing Web site (fostertravel.com), you can see 200 worldwide travel writing/photo articles he has written for consumers and content buyers, his photos, and descriptions of his ten books and three apps.



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