Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Apps: State of the Industry

Believe it or not there is a budding Book App industry but it is so new that you can hardly see it.  The truth is that the vast majority of book apps produced today are crap. They are being developed by people from all over the world, on small budgets, big dreams, and little or no talent.

All Over The World
I look at the new releases in the Books category of the iPad App Store every day to see what new book apps have been released.  There are plenty of new titles every day from developers all over the world. The majority of these are produced by individuals or small companies.  This is good because it demonstrates one aspect of the book app industry I love; there is a low barrier to entry.  As a result we get to see lots of different ideas - but there has a been a far great supply of really shoddy work than anything else.

Small Budgets
Since most of the book apps are being developed by small teams or individuals the budgets are extremely small for most books and that is nearly always reflected in the quality of work.   I'm not saying that quality is directly tied to amount invested, but small budgets determine two things: The quality of the assets and the features provided by the book app.  If you have a small budget you can't afford a great artist, animations, voice overs, or writing.  Even if you get the content right, which is very rare, the enhanced features offered by most book apps are pretty lame.  I'm sorry, but using basic physics is not going to cut it anymore. You can't just take old art work, wrap it in a 2D physics engine, and call it a wrap.  That may have worked in 2010 with the first books but it rarely pays off now.  To do something really interesting you need to innovate and provide a unique experience which means more sophisticated programming and a bigger budget.

Big Dreams
Most of the folks that enter this industry have very big dreams about building a publishing empire and making loads of money.  The reality, even for the most successful book app publishers, is just the opposite.  The truth is the audience for book apps simply doesn't exist yet.  At least not at a level that can sustain a full time studio.  That's going to change over the course of the next five years, but right now most book app publishers have discovered, or are discovering, that there is little or no money to be made in book apps.  There are a few who may be doing well, but they are a very small percentage of the total number of publishers attempting to make money in this new media.

Little or No Talent
This is the other thing about book app publishers: The vast majority of us have no practical experience in either publishing, film making, radio, or anything creative.  I think you really have to have a fundamental understanding of the entertainment industry to do a good job at publishing book apps. Most of the book app publishers have created a couple games - probably unsuccessful games - but few have a background in publishing, film, radio or any of the other high-production entertainment skills needed to make this work.

There is Hope
While the present is rather grim for anyone who wants to make a living at publishing book apps, the future is extremely bright.   When I talk to other book app publishers I often compare the present state of our budding industry to the beginning of the film industry or automobile industry.   At the beginning of the film industry there was far more people interested in making silent films than there were people interest in watching them.  This changed pretty quickly, but at first a lot of movies were made that were (a) really horrible (b) never saw the light of day.  The same is true of the automobile industry. There was an explosion of automobile manufacutures all over the world between 1900 and 1914 but few of them survived to become part of the really huge automobile industry that came into existence after the first World War.  The shortage of consumers was exasperated by the shortage of infrastructure. Finding a decent road to drive on was difficult to say the least not to mention finding a gas station.

The book app industry, currently in its infancy, is suffering just as the film and auto industries did, but conditions are significantly different.  For one, the app stores (in particular Apple's for now) makes it really easy to distribute book apps and to reach a potentially huge audience.  Second, growth in tablet computers and advanced eReaders (the infrastructure of book apps) is growing really quickly. More quickly than anything else I've seen - even the Internet.  In five years I suspect 80% of people in 1st World countries who own computers today will own a tablet or advanced eReader device.  When we reach that level of adoption, the book app industry will explode into a mainstream media.  

The folks who focus on producing great quality works today and on implementing a sustainable business model - one based on growing recognition not revenues - will be the ones best prepared to win in what will become a very big business.  I don't plan to have a huge back list five years from now. Instead, I plan to have several extremely well executed works and a fantastic reputation for creating quality book apps.  When 'Lord of the Rings', 'Dune', and 'Harry Potter' are ready to be adapted into book apps my studio, Noble Beast, will be on the short list for developing those titles.  That's the goal.

1 comment:

Alessandro Vene said...

nice article and blog , as a children's app illustrator I get all the time people that have no idea where to start from :-)