Re-Imagining the Book: Notes from Our April 29, 2010 Program

By Laura Rumpf, New Village Press

The Hotel Rex was abuzz with talk of e-books, iPhones, iPads and Apps this April 29th for the NCBPMA Luncheon Event: Re-Imagining the Book. Brice Gosnell, Regional Publisher for the Americas at Lonely Planet, Scott Rogers, VP of New Business Development for McGraw Hill Professional, and Michael Schneider, the CEO of Mobile Roadie, challenged the audience of tech enthusiasts and skeptics alike to consider how Apps for mobile devices are shaping the future of publishing. With over five billion mobile phone users and 85 million users of iPhone and iPod Apps worldwide, this presentation and dialogue could not have come at a more crucial time for publishing professionals looking to capitalize on the new technology.

Functionality and tie-in with brand were among the key considerations the panelists encouraged publishers to keep in mind as they plunge into the new and largely unexplored field of App development. Rather than replicate the experience of reading a book in print,  “the App as a product has to stand on its own,” said Gosnell. “Market research shows that not everyone wants to get rid of the physical book medium, but an App can help either support or supplement what books can’t do.”

Panelists offered examples from their firsthand experience of how Apps can enhance consumers’ experience, and improve the branding of a book, author, or publishing house. Brice Gosnell shared a timely anecdote related to the volcano that stranded thousands of travelers in Europe this past month. Lonely Planet, which has developed over 96 stand-alone Apps to date, including 58 City Guides, gave away 13 European iPhone Guides free to tourists delayed en-route to their destinations, generating enormously positive exposure for the new product and improving the reputation of the already well-regarded  Lonely Planet brand. Scott Rogers discussed how McGraw Hill Professional, which has over 100 apps in development, identified a way to enhance functionality and consumer convenience by creating a study guide App specifically for medical students that allowed them to cycle through study material more readily than they could have with a physical text book. He noted that highly specific Apps tend to sell better than more general ones. Michael Schneider impressed the audience with slides demonstrating how one could market an author as a brand, using author Sophie Kinsella’s App as an example: readers can download the software to follow her events, communicate with her on an interactive forum and view chapter previews of her books for free before buying online.

While each presenter encouraged the marketers and publicists in the audience to experiment with the new technology, they cautioned the audience to consider the likely market returns on Apps before committing too large a portion of one’s budget to App development. “Don’t over-invest until you know how to invest,” warned Rogers.

“The easiest biggest way to measure the impact [of an app] is to figure out the demographic” added Schneider, who used the example of the Twilight franchise –which attracts consumers who are largely social-media savvy and regular internet users as an ideal opportunity for App development, as opposed to titles whose readership is less active online.

“We give each app a financial qualifier to measure worth, whether terms are in sales, media hits, etc,” added Gosnell.

In a concluding question-and-answer panel moderated by John McMurtrie of the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, the authors gave slightly different predictions for the future of e-books and electronic book publishing, but agreed that the iPhone App medium is an important one to understand and take advantage of.

Michael Schneider, for one, predicted that mobile devices will surpass all other forms of book consumption, given their interactive and on-demand nature. That said, high quality material  is crucial to the success of any endeavor. “Good content will work on any platform, across ebooks, apps, iPhone, etc,”concluded Rogers.

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