Martin Klopstock of Kogan Page has provided FutureBook with a great case study of their book and iPad app BOLD. Really useful to find out how the project developed, key decisions and the strategy they have taken:
‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms occur.’
(Antonio Gramsci 1891–1937)
We don’t have to share Gramsci’s pessimism to realise that we have entered the threshold of a new age of content creation and dissemination – although we haven’t yet entirely crossed it. The vast majority of book publications are still the paperbacks and hardbacks of the Gutenberg era, but other more fanciful and networked options are rapidly emerging. In the transitional space we have entered, old rules are breaking down, but no dominant new paradigm seems on the horizon yet. Publishers’ responses to this rapidly transfiguring landscape of the traditional publishing supply chain and new content models range from ‘wait and see’ to serious experimentation.
I would suggest that this is a time for risk taking and brave – indeed bold – decision making. Here’s why. As readers become increasingly networked cyber-citizens, their purchasing habits are realigning themselves with new reading technologies and supply-chain offerings. They are able to pursue ever more arcane, specialised and personal interests from the comfort of their own rooms. They are increasingly likely to find out online about a book that might interest them, as newspapers are going digital and e-retailers are mining their customer data for ever more personalised recommendations.
Apple’s iPad has certainly made an impact with 15 million devices sold since launch. And users are downloading apps in their billions (Apple is on their ‘10 Billion App Countdown’). What, one might ask, has this to do with traditional publishing? Not much on the face of it, but there are real opportunities for those willing to enter the fray.
Bold book – Bold app – Bold publishing
In April, Kogan Page will be publishing BOLD: How to be brave in business and win by Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan – a book that draws on several years of research on profiling and analysing brands that are transforming their markets. Other industries and sectors have embraced the socially networked lives of their customers and are engaging with them in imaginative ways that create online ‘communities’ with shared interests and shared sets of values. The authors’ deep experience of how brands succeed and fail and what truly sets some brands apart from others was too good an opportunity to miss for us as publishers and, perhaps, presents us with an opportunity to help transform our market.
It quickly became obvious that here was a great opportunity to create our own ‘bold’ approach to publishing with BOLD the book. Almost from day one, the idea of an iPad app was mooted – but a number of questions presented themselves almost as rapidly: What shape should the app take? What would its relationship to the book be? Who would be suitable developers? How would we envisage the process of a three-way collaboration between publisher, author and developer? How would this process then impact upon the marketing of the book and the app?
Kogan Page had developed one previous app, with an offshore vendor, and one decision that was made almost immediately was that we needed a local company to develop the app. In addition, we wanted them to have extensive publishing experience and be excellent communicators (and not just geeks), as we knew that much of the detailed communication would have to be between the developers and the authors whose content they were transforming into a compelling user experience on the iPad.
Having identified the developer (Spacebar), it was vital to align our objectives three ways: publisher and authors needed to agree on the overall purpose and function of the app and its relationship to the printed book; and the developer needed to understand their vision and give digital shape to it. It helped enormously that the authors were equally keen on developing an app – they did not have to be prompted, and could see the potential of an app early in the process. I cannot overstate the importance of a shared approach and objectives between publisher and author: they need to become a team. This is one of the significant differences to the traditional, much more arms-length, approach in which the author creates the content and only really engages with the publisher after completion.
A book/app hybrid
The first decision was to agree the overall function and purpose of the app: we did not want the app to be a merely digital version of the book, but to present the user with a compelling offering in its own right. It therefore needed to contain specifically authored premium content – but content that had a relationship to the book. In the case of BOLD, it was decided that the app was to be an interactive brand-profiling tool that could be used to create the profile of any brand – and then measure it against the characteristics of the ‘bold’ brands described in the book. The app, in effect, is a tool embodying the authors’ brand-profiling methodology outlined in the book: it puts it into practice.
It was also agreed, right from the start, that the app was to be free, but would drive book sales by exploiting cross-marketing opportunities between book and app. It also gave both the publisher and the author an opportunity to market their respective brands. This was not a decision for the faint-hearted – but was made deliberately and in mutual agreement.
The next decision was to agree the relationship between the profiling tool in the app and the book content. While it was clear from the start that the app (being free) needed to drive sales of the printed book, there was still room to be creative. We decided not only to make the entire book available inside the app, as a paid-for e-book, but also to personalise the reading experience by allowing the reader to select individual chapters from the book based on the results of their brand-profiling exercise. Once the user has profiled their own brand, the app makes recommendations on how to improve it and align it more with the ‘bold’ brands described the book. These recommendations refer the user back to specific chapters in BOLD the book, which can be unlocked individually within the app. Links to the main e-retailers for the print version are also available.
An additional reason for ‘curating’ the reading experience based on the reader’s interaction with the profiling tool was the following thought: instead of regarding the book as a single item, the value of specifically selected content for each reader would, we imagined, change the price/value relationship of the content for them. This is the basis for premium pricing the ‘curated’ recommended chapters and offering in effect ‘content on a sliding scale’. The recommended chapters are cheaper than the whole book, but more expensive than they would be on a pro-rata basis. We will see if our readers share our assumption.
The reader at the centre
Another point which emerged early on in discussions with the authors was that it was important to make decisions exclusively with the reader/app user in mind: if a particular feature of the app adds no value for them – we would not include it. Once we had decided that the primary purpose of the app was to create value to the reader, it created a clear focus. This is also the reason we decided not to require the reader to register their details before using the app, even though this would have provided valuable data for both authors and publisher. We felt this would have potentially devalued the app content for the reader, who can still add their name to a mailing list voluntarily.
This constituted, in effect, the vision for the app, and the developer needed to signal that they were on board.
Once all three parties felt they had communicated their intentions successfully, the development process could begin in earnest. The first step was a detailed proposal by the developer and a set of wireframes showing the basic structure of the app. A good developer can add significantly to the process: they will often make a creative contribution to the final shape of the product. They will also point out what deviations from the initial brief can be accommodated easily (and within budget), and which ones would be possible, but would significantly expand the agreed project scope. Scope creep is an ever present hazard, as on all bespoke software development, and the publisher’s role is to spot opportunities for product improvement that can be realised within the agreed parameters while not dampening the overall enthusiasm for the project by being too heavy-handed.
The ‘print and pray’ approach to publishing is showing its long tooth and it is clear that marketing efforts will have to become much more focused and imaginative – and will need to involve all parties (in this case: author/publisher/developer) right from the start. This will also involve an increased share in risk and reward, time and effort. These are exciting times for content creators, developers and publishers: and part of the enthusiasm for the brave new world we are all entering is the x-ingredient of shared purpose and ‘boldness’ of approach. This is not the time for ‘business as usual’ and publishers need to re-invent the relationships with their readers, but also with their authors! It provides enormous satisfaction to see a vision become reality – precisely because that vision unveils itself in an increasingly shared and collaborative publishing process. Be bold, try it!
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