Toby Hopkins, Head of Books Sales for Corbis Images in the UK, shares perspectives on iPad publishing from Charles Catton, Publishing Manager of Amber Books. Toby will moderate a panel on the London bookfair about the subject ‘Beyond the Printed Page, Content for a Digital Age’ on wednesday the 13th of April.
Apps – everyone in publishing seems to be talking about them, but what are they exactly, and how do you make them? Corbis Images are organising a panel at the upcoming London Book Fair – “Beyond the Printed Page, Content for a Digital Age” – to look at how illustrated publishers are making the leap from producing books to producing digital products.
One of the speakers for the panel is Charles Catton, publishing manager of Amber Books. He’s been working in illustrated publishing for over 10 years, and developing apps since 2009. Charles is a fan of illustrated books: the combination of text and pictures gives the reader something special, he says. He is confident illustrated publishing has a future – and that part of that future will involve delivering the traditional elements of a book (i.e. pictures and words) digitally and in a way that takes advantage of the interactivity of the digital experience. For the moment, the best way to do that and see a return for your efforts is by producing apps.
Charles works by three golden rules:
1. Know your market
An app is not the be-all and end-all in digital publishing, but the success of Apple’s iTunes store selling apps for iPhone and iPad offers publishers a route to market. Here is a digital product that punters will actually pay for. Amber Books, with a backlist packed with military history, saw an opportunity: their target market of enthusiasts would welcome apps containing the detailed information they carry in their books. And when they looked at the competition – apps which were not much fun to use and carried incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information – they realised they could do better.
2. Keep it simple
Amber began by mining their back catalogue for content which they could convert into apps. Their first series of apps was based on their collectors’ series of titles on subjects such as small arms, tanks, military aircraft, civil aircraft. This series of books has done well for them over many years. It is a simple format – a double page spread on each aircraft or weapon type comprising an illustration of the subject and a listing of its vital statistics. This is classic reference publishing.
Amber minimised the risk by working in partnership with a developer. He took on the detailed work and costs of digitising, as well as the process of publishing. The developer took the information listings, which Amber updated, and added a simple index. Also, he added a zoom in- zoom out feature to the image. These apps have gone down well for Amber – retailing at £2.39 ($3.99) – they have sold in the thousands. That’s not the same return you would get on a new print book, but for an extension of the lifespan of a series that has done well in print for many years, it’s a promising return.
3. Be creative
Emboldened by success, Charles has decided to try out new things. He has a range of developers to work with now who have different skills and who he knows can create different styles and qualities of app. He is willing to take on more of the costs of development – which means Amber has more potential to make profit.
Amber’s next app to be released is “Dragons”. Again it’s taken from one of their existing books, where Amber owns the rights to the text and artwork. As a book, it works well as a reference on mythical and fictional dragons. The app contains that core content, the images and the text are little changed. But now there is much more interactivity to draw children in. The dragon illustrations twist and turn on the screen and the user can rearrange them by country or type or a user-assigned rating at the touch of a finger.
So the lesson from Charles is to give it a go. Producing compelling content and making it exciting to read is what illustrated publishers do best, and it’s rewarding to try out those skills in the digital arena.
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