Why book publishers must rethink mobile – or fail
March 30, 2012
With consumers reading content on multiple devices, book publishers are being forced to take a new look at their digital business plans and adjust.
Compared to other entertainment industries, such as music, book publishing has been slow to adapt for mobile and publishers are still testing many marketing efforts. Although all sectors of book publishing have undoubtedly been changed by digital, children’s book publishing has been particularly strong to jump into mobile because of content that naturally fits in with interactive platforms.
“From a publishing standpoint, we have not seen mobile completely kick in yet,” said Diane Naughton, vice president of integrated marketing for the children’s division at HarperCollins, New York.
“As new readers are born with different reading habits, we expect to see numbers continue to explode in the space,” she said.
HarperCollins has been experimenting in the mobile space with apps, ebooks, SMS and mobile bar codes.
The publisher works to make sure that its content is on a number of mobile platforms, including iOS and Android-powered devices. Additionally, for each book release, an ebook version is always launched as well.
Additionally, HarperCollins has tested both paid and free apps.
For example, the publisher has a marketing program called Dark Days for its teenage division that focuses on the disturbia genre. Fans of the program can download a free app to read excerpts from five different authors and connect with the program’s social media.
HarperCollins has also tested mobile bar codes on its books from author Lauren Conrad. The publisher places QR codes on book jackets and marketing materials that let users access additional information about the book and the author.
Similar to other publishers, one of HarperCollins biggest struggles is allotting the time and resources to develop mobile initiatives on multiple platforms. With readers accessing content from multiple devices, it can be difficult for publishers to know where to place their money and content.
Another publisher playing in the mobile space for its children’s books is Scholastic, which offers game and book apps of its books on iOS and Android devices.
“At Scholastic, our mission is to provide fun and engaging digital experiences wherever kids are – and kids are mobile,” said Daisy Kline, vice president of marketing and brand management at Scholastic Media, New York.
“We have long believed that interactive media is all about kids owning the experience and mobile is no exception,” she said.
Scholastic has mobile efforts for some of the publisher’s biggest series such as Clifford the Big Red Dog and The Magic School Bus.
According to the Scholastic exec, finding a way to keep the storytelling aspect in content is one of the most difficult parts of digital publishing.
“Digital delivery has been and will continue to be about great storytelling,” Ms. Kline said.
“Narrative, reward and design all come to play in a successful digital reading experience,” she said.
“All Scholastic Media’s mobile products are developed in-house, ensuring that we can maintain fidelity to the tone, look and feel of beloved Scholastic brands while guaranteeing that parents can trust the products to be both educational and entertaining.”
Bank on books
With more ebook-tablet hybrids available on the market, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, mobile reading has transitioned into a multiple screen experience, according to an executive at Adobe.
“From a consumer perspective, the mobile world offers us to be ability to log-in to read content, participate in social media and have a ubiquitous experience, which some would argue has increased consumption in books,” said Kiyo Toma, senior product manager for InDesign at Adobe, San Jose.
Additionally, services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace program have changed the ways that content is distributed for smaller publishers. Amazon’s service aims to help authors self-publish their own content digitally, which makes more content available to readers and flips the traditional multi-process and year model of boom publishing.
To help make sense of the digital publishing industry, organizations such as the International Digital Publishing Forum are aimed at educating the publishing industry about standards and showing publishers what is possible with new technology.
“It is not played out yet, but the question in the industry is how are you going to keep ahold of authors where they can put content out there that does not conform to physical book shelf space,” Mr. Toma said.
“I think every book publisher I have talked to acknowledges that mobile is a major focus,” he said.
“If you are not playing with it, you will be left behind.”
When it comes to publishing, tablets make more sense than smartphones for digesting content. Although it is possible, the chance that mobile users will read full novels on their mobile phones is slim.
However, smartphone initiatives also give publishers the opportunity to convert short-form readers into long-form readers, which could help publishers monetize content.
For example, a publisher could create an app for a specific book that only includes excerpts. The app could then tease users to download the full version of an ebook that is available on tablets and ereaders.
“I do not know that mobile phones are the ideal way to consume long-form content, but they are certainly a way to consume it,” said Brian Howard, editor in chief of Book Business, Philadelphia.
“And phones are getting bigger, tablets are getting smaller and screen technology is improving every day,” he said.
“Publishers are getting much more sophisticated about this stuff – selling content by the chapter and parceling out different pieces of their offerings onto the ideal platform.”
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York
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