By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World
Dark Horse has always attempted to work with great creators in order to create great stories. Over the years, we have been successful in taking those stories into other media. We have always been on the cutting edge of technology, and our new iPhone relationship allows us to reach a whole new generation of readers.
Mobile apps are all the rage right now, and with over 27,000 book-related apps currently in the iTunes App Store, Books have recently leapfrogged Games as the largest category.
Today, the top paid app in Books is Dr. Horrible, a digital adaption of the one-shot comic book based on Joss Whedon’s “smash-hit musical” Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. The original 40-page comic book published by Dark Horse last November had a cover price of $3.50, and saw an estimated 25,326 non-returnable copies ordered by comics retailers, representing approximately $44,000 in revenue based on a 50% wholesale discount. The iPhone app, featuring 124 full-color screens and developed in-house by Dark Horse, sells for $0.99.
With Apple’s 70:30 split, they’d have to sell more than 63,000 downloads to match the $44,000 in revenue for the print version, though the expenses are presumably lower for the app so the profit margin is likely higher.
When you factor in Dark Horse’s long history of direct engagement with their readers, the prominent visibility they give their apps online, their ability to promote them on a regular basis to a highly targeted audience via their monthly comic books, plus in-house development of apps — which means they’re not splitting revenue with a third-party developer — their program would appear to be a very worthwhile investment.
But what about traditional publishers, the majority of whom lack most (or any) of Dark Horse’s advantages, but are nevertheless tripping over themselves to jump on the latest shiny bandwagon?
[Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah] focused on basing iPhone apps on Sourcebook’s baby-name titles (the house has about 20); the apps became a profitable niche. Sourcebooks now has about 58 iPhone apps in development and spends $3,000 to $7,000 to develop each one.
The number of book apps will grow exponentially over the next several months as Grand Central Publishing, Osprey Publishing and Walker Books have all recently announced new apps in development, and developers like Enhanced Editions, Scrollmotion and Vook continue to roll out new offerings in partnership with a variety of publishers and authors.
The pricing for these book apps is all over the map, ranging from free samples and $0.99 digital comics to $16.99 (£9.99) for the oft-cited The Death of Bunny Munro.
While the $0.99 Dr. Horrible app is #1 in the Books section, it doesn’t appear in the Top 100 Paid Apps overall, the majority of which are games, with “Battle Bears: Zombies!” ($1.19) currently sitting at #100.
Interestingly, according to MobClix, 73% of the nearly 150,000 iPhone apps are paid apps, but 2/3rds of all downloaded apps are free, and the average paid app only costs $2.85.
In light of the exploding “traditional” eBook market (both in sales, retail channels and never-ending drama), are publishers taking their eye off of the ball, or are mobile apps the real future of eBooks?
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is the Chief Executive Optimist for Digital Book World.