Apple's risky business

Amid all the big news happening this week, you'd be forgiven for missing this important blog/ announcement from Dave Addey at app development company Agant.

"Over the past three years, Agant has transformed from myself as a one-man band into a small but growing team, developing apps for some amazing companies. . . And yet, despite all of this work, and the brilliant team at Agant, I've made the decision to return to being a one-man-band."

According to Addey running a growing company with seven staff is no longer possible in the app world created by Apple.

"Over the past few years, the App Store has become more and more competitive, and more and more risky with it. Agant's speciality has been high-quality, higher-value apps, often published in collaboration with our clients. Typically these are paid (rather than free or freemium) apps. Unfortunately, the iOS App Store's set-up just does not seem to support the discovery, trialling and long-term life of these kinds of high-value apps, making it difficult to justify the risk of their development. After much consideration, I've decided that I can no longer take this risk on Agant's behalf."

I wonder if anyone at Apple has read the blog? Addey's point is not unfamiliar. Many publishers have told me that though they continue to develop book apps, they now have to base them on a freemium model just so they get enough oxygen in the app store to attract enough users who might then go on to make in-app purchases.

HarperCollins's superb Times Atlas, which came to the app store last year priced at £6.99 is just one good example--it is now free, but users need to buy additional maps and charts through in-app. As Beyond the Story's Jen Porter wrote recently, the best interactive content coming out of publishing businesses (traditional and otherwise) is being lost, drowned out by Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Cut the Rope (and their imitators). In Apple's App Store's new and noteworthy right now there is not one 'book' app, the majority--23--are free, with only one app priced above £2.99. Meanwhile, the book section resembles a bargain bookstore down on its luck.

Perhaps Apple's view of this is Darwinian, that a viable business model will emerge; or perhaps it simply believes content owners are willing to keep throwing huge chunks of cash at its app wall so that the giant tech company can carry on selling its hardware. As Addey said in an earlier blog:

"Apps are what make your iPhone or iPad great; apps are the thing that make you come back and buy a new iOS device every couple of years. The hardware is, of course, incredible; but it’s the apps that make it useful."

Alternatively, Apple could put these apps where they ought to be, i.e. where book buyers are. My guess is that this was was iBooks Author was supposed to achieve, and in part it has, but still the best stuff (in fact the really creative stuff) resides elsewhere. That's just odd. Imagine opening a bookshop and then putting the most well-designed books in the mobile phone shop two streets away.

My hunch is that publishers will continue to fund these kinds products, and write off the costs to research and development, or they'll begin to establish more economical ways of producing them.

In the physical world we've long valued the diversity of the products on view and this has been supported by a diversified marketplace. Just last week I wrote that book publishers were starting to see good returns for producing better print books and doing interesting, interactive, things with paper. Oddly, as the iOS App Store approaches its fifth birthday, it is the book app, not the book, that looks to be in need of resuscitation.

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Comments

Books or Apps?

While I understand Dave's predicament in going solo, but the App Store has been a much better place for book content than the iBook Store, at least for us. Check this out: http://paidcontent.org/2013/07/03/publish-ebook-ios/. We have had similar success repurposing books as apps and selling on the app store. I don't particular agree with the statement that as a book publisher you cannot compete with the likes of Angry Birds. Here's some evidence: http://blog.papertrell.com/post/50335124557/how-to-build-a-book-app-in-10-days-recover-your However the key to success in the book apps business is to keep development costs extremely low and have an agile and iterative mindset. Something we have been working on at Papertrell.com Our publisher partners have seen incredible returns on very small investments, and yes they do include HarperCollins, one of our customers.

Caveat auctor

Apple provides excellent content creation tools; it provides a premier distribution system. Oddly publishers and authors want it to do the marketing as well. In other words, they want Apple to do all the work of a publisher for 30 percent of the takings. No publisher would accept those terms. But Apple being Apple, everyone expects a bite.

APPS or eBooks?

Isn't this why your books should be in the iBookstore and not in the APP store?

There is some fantastic work going on with the ePUB3 format, with good javascript support and multimedia additions. And for those who are happy to be entirely inside the Apple ecosystem there is iBooks Author. 

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