Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Digital Reading: DBA Judge Peter Costanzo on Book Apps, Virtual Elves, and ROI

Originally published on Digital Book World
I’m asking our experts on the Digital Book Awards judging panel to tell me, please, where to find great digital works. Peter Costanzo’s clear-sighted take on the state of things is making me think about what it really is that gets me to hit that ‘Buy’ button.
AK: How are you feeling about book app development and innovation?
PC: Overall, I’d say the state of book app development is as innovative as ever. Where things get murky, within an iOS universe, is for readers to know what’s available in the Books category of the App Store compared to what’s available to them within Apple’s iBookstore. Thanks to iBooks Author, some fantastic interactivity is now possible in ebook form and can be on par with what’s found within an app.
But the consumer awareness level of what it means to download a project made with iBooks Author remains tepid at best, so publishers have to decide where it makes the most sense for their highly interactive book projects to live–the App Store, or the iBookstore, that is the question. If you take the iBooks Author route, you’ve got a free, but limited platform to work with. If, instead you take the app route to make all your interactive dreams a reality, then you potentially have a very expensive venture on your hands.
Either way, a comprehensive marketing plan will need to be part of the equation in order for your digital project to be discovered, which is a discussion any publisher and author should have before a keystroke of programming begins.
AK: Are you excited about any particular apps you’ve seen, or interactive features you’ve been able to use or see others using?
PC: I think there has been, and continues to be, terrific interactive and inventive book apps that hit the market from folks like Touch Press, Moonbot, Moving Tales, Disney, and others, (and from some traditional publishing houses too), particularly in the education and kids space that have creatively re-imagined content for digital formats.
Listing any of the cool features I’ve noticed would be too long to mention here, but I can tell you when I produce a project, I believe it’s important to include a certain amount of interactivity on every page, whether in the form of pop-ups, slide-shows, scrolling, gaming, etc., that hopefully meets or exceeds the user’s expectations.
By the time the reader reaches the end there should be a sense that the format appropriately delivered an experience not possible in print. That’s because whether in app form, iBooks Author, or HTML5 online, consumers understandably want to feel there was a reason they took the time to download a digital version of a book as opposed to what’s already available to them a bookshelf away. When it comes to books in app form, static pages just ain’t gonna cut it.
AK: What’s the biggest development challenge facing digital book producers this year?
PC:  I addressed the various challenges that face digital book producers a few months ago on the DBW blog, particularly when it comes to enhanced ebooks. Other than the potential for opportunities using EPUB3, I still don’t think much has changed or will change any time soon.
For book apps, it’s production costs versus return on investment and whether or not such projects can be released in great numbers in a sustainable way year after year. We’ve seen some companies a few years back, like Scroll Motion, produce many innovative book apps, but eventually they determined the ROI just wasn’t there to remain a player in the digital publishing game.
AK: How about marketplace challenges? How have you tackled them?
PC: To me, the biggest problem is the consumer perception that magical virtual elves create these products and because they’re digital should then be priced somewhere between 99 cents and $3.99, which makes it really, really difficult for these apps to be financially viable. And if you try to make the case as to why they should have more value in the buyer’s eye, due to everything that goes into creating them, it usually just sounds like whining.
One of the ways I’ve found to deal with this is to use the project as a marketing vehicle, which means making it free, and within it include related content that’s for sale, whether it be additional titles in a series (print and/or digital), digital downloads for movies, soundtracks, and so on. Granted, this approach usually works best if you’re a full-fledged media company, like Nickelodeon or Disney, but I’ve definitely purchased ebooks/apps from a series or company based on my appreciation for the effort that went into the one that was available for free.
AK: And where are you finding real excellence in digital books this year?
PC: At the Digital Book Awards, of course!
AK: Peter, you took the words right out of my mouth.

About Anne Kostick

Anne is a UX fan girl and a partner in Foxpath IND , specializing in the transition to and from traditional content publishing and online content development, management, and publishing. Her clients include trade book publishers; technology and financial services websites; and arts and cultural institutions. Her occasional column, Digital Reading, discusses user experience and related topics in ebooks and digital reading. Anne is emerita president of Women’s Media Group, an industry organization, program director of the Digital Book Awards and a member of BEA Conference Advisory Board. She is the author of several books for children and a definitive collection of jokes.

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