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

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

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.

Related: Peter Costanzo on Why Enhanced Ebooks Haven’t Taken Off Yet

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Peter Costanzo, Digital Book Awards Judge and award-winning ebook producer and online marketing/business development strategist.

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.

The Digital Book Awards is open for entries. If you are the author, publisher, producer or developer of a great digital book, consider entering the competition. All the information you need is HERE. The early-bird deadline is September 2; the regular deadline is October 1.

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

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Publishing apps rather that ebooks has another side that a software developer pointed out to me when I contacted him about creating a app version of my The Lord of the Rings chronology, Untangling Tolkien. Although the book’s complexity, what happens to every character on every day, would adapt well to an app, he pointed out a major risk. Since it was already a book, Apple might decide to reject it, negating all those development costs. Better to stick with an ebook they’d almost certainly publish.

    I might add that the greater development costs of an app over an ebook highlights a distinction between print and ebook prices that’s not getting enough attention.

    * If publishing means taking genre fiction for relatively unknown authors and releasing it with little editorial involvement, an ebook price can be quite low because there are almost no advance costs or prep costs at the publisher. What goes out is the barely tweaked Word document that the author sent in. That’s Amazon’s view of publishing.

    * If publishing means attracting successful authors or important people, then a book’s development costs can easily become a far larger slice of its cost than the mere printing, particularly for high volumes. It’s those fixed development costs, mostly experienced by the larger publishers, that mean that digital doesn’t reduce the cost of publication that much. If you assume that each ebook sale means the loss of a print sale, then that ebook price has to bear more of the burden of those development costs. Printing costs matter little. Ebook prices need to stay high if a publisher wants to stay in business.

    Apps over ebooks merely introduces another complication, an app development costs that, because it must deal with a host of animations and transitions, costs more than laying out a print or digital book.

    ——-

    Unfortunately, the best bit of news in publishing in recent years has gotten little attention in the trade press. This spring Adobe released a new version of InDesign that can, in a matter of a few minutes, export of fixed layout epub (suitable for tablets) that looks virtually identical to the print version. Publishers who create high-quality print versions can now create, with a few clicks of a mouse, an equally attractive digital version for the iBookstore and Nooks. That’s particularly great for highly visual books such as children’s stories, cookbooks, and textbooks.

    Amazon has nothing remotely similar. When I contacted Kindle support about creating similar ebooks for Kindles, I was told that I’d need to pay thousands of dollars to a third-party company to do that. Amazon has refused to work with Adobe, whose InDesign teams works only a few miles from their corporate headquarters.

    In contrast, Apple has been working closely with Adobe to make sure InDesign exports excellent ebooks for iPads. It’s much like the latter half of the 1980s, when Apple and Aldus/Adobe worked closely together to make PDF the success it is today. The end result is likely that, by next year, there’ll be ebooks for iPads and Nooks that’ll either not be available for Kindles or available only in an inferior, reflowable format.

    Amazon’s dominance of the ebook market could begin to wane, a readers discover that they can get better looking ebooks on other platforms. And all that is happening because Amazon refused to help developers at Adobe’s offices a mere ten minute drive from their offices.

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  2. Robbie

    I will NEVER believe an e-book is as expensive as a printed book. The text is typed. There’s no printing costs. There is no shipping and handling costs except maybe for the software to download the book. I’m sure Amazon is well aware of the costs of an e-book versus a printed version. I will ALWAYS be on their side and the costs should be drastically different (lower) for an e-book than the printed version. If I’m wrong, explain these costs you say exist for an e-book. Educate me.

    Reply
  3. John

    \the best bit of news in publishing in recent years has gotten little attention in the trade press\

    That’s because it doesn’t deserve any better.

    \Publishers who create high-quality print versions can now create, with a few clicks of a mouse, an equally attractive digital version for the iBookstore and Nooks.\

    The tool won’t help publishers create high-quality electronic books, especially if they think the process is just a few clicks of a mouse. Hell, a great part of eReaders just HATE fixed-layout books, they’d be better off with a PDF Print-Replica. In some markets they don’t even know what is a fixed-layout ebook, they are writing articles telling THE. EBOOKSTORE. IS. TRYING. TO. SCREW. THEM. as they can’t read the file with the device they have bought.

    \In contrast, Apple has been working closely with Adobe to make sure InDesign exports excellent ebooks for iPads.\

    Nope, a spade is a spade. Indesign outputs EPUB files that can turn so bad that they are just that bad. And you’re basically telling people that the incompetent people who took months to fix a simple bug concerning embedded fonts—specifically—on iBooks have been working closely with Apple? Hell, in some countries (once again), some ID’s users have been thinking about launching a petition so that the InDesign team in charge of EPUB gets fired because they are making the biggest amount of s*** software developers have made in history!

    \The end result is likely that, by next year, there’ll be ebooks for iPads and Nooks that’ll either not be available for Kindles or available only in an inferior, reflowable format.\

    If you think reflowable text is an inferior format, then you are clearly not listening to readers at best… or incompetent at worst. If you do design, you know fixed-layout is an inferior product as it doesn’t solve any problem readers encounter (reflow solves some of them), it just solves the problems of a tiny minority of books from very little publishers by reinventing the wheel a.k.a. PDF.

    Reply

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