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iPhone Updates: Missing Manual Already #2; More Book Apps Hit iTunes

We released David Pogue’s iPhone: The Missing Manual as an iPhone App on Friday, and by Saturday it was already the #2 for-pay App in the Books category on iTunes (where it has remained, behind only the Classics App), and it continues to gain ground. In just four days, it has become one of our top sellers of the year in electronic format. Notably, even at the promotional $4.99 price, it is the highest-priced app among the top 50 paid book apps. While $0.99 pricing clearly moves merchandise, it’s unlikely that kind of pricing is sustainable for most Apps, including books (for more, see this excellent post from Andy Finnell on app pricing).

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Yesterday brought news that several other major publishers are rolling out iPhone Apps of popular titles, including the Twilight series (which right now is priced at $10.99), via an app development company out of New York, ScrollMotion. I haven’t tried their reader, but the annotation feature shown in the screenshots looks pretty neat. We’ve been very pleased with how our books render in Stanza, especially for computer code, cross references, and tables — all of which are quite common across our catalog.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the news of more iPhone book apps, most vocally TeleRead blogger (and TOC Conference panelist) David Rothman:

Some consumers may want hundreds of books on their iPhones. Should publishers put such a crimp on their purchases? And will apps be the easiest things to organize into libraries? I’m open minded about the O’Reilly iPhone guide as an app, given its connection with the machine. But please don’ make an app of every book!

While I share David’s concerns about format lock-in (a big reason we offer many of our books in a variety of DRM-free formats), I think his distaste of standalone book apps is misplaced. Yes, it’s true that right now the iPhone can only hold 148 apps. But given the nature of the device, I don’t think it’s likely that most customers will begin using it to manage/consume large numbers of books they intend to keep for long periods of time. Books on the iPhone likely serve the same function for readers as games do — temporary entertainment, likely to be replaced by the next cool thing that comes along. I’ve deleted dozens of apps myself, at least a few of them ones I paid for.

But regardless of where your personal opinion lies on that issue, if you’re a publisher there are several things to keep in mind as you consider the App Store as a distribution channel:

  • Apple has tremendous power in this relationship. They’re taking 30 percent right off the top, and they alone decide if and when your app appears. For many of your potential customers in this new market, that’s just fine. They don’t care about you or your other products. They care about entertaining/amusing/informing themselves.
  • The App Store is a vibrant and thriving marketplace, but it’s still in its infancy. There is a lot to learn about how to price and promote books this way. For example, here’s a list of sites that promote new apps. Some are pay-to-promote, which sounds kinda gross, but isn’t much different from co-op. Here’s more from the same site on pricing.
  • While this depends a lot on the types of books you publish, it’s likely a small but very active segment of your audience feels the same way David does, and will reward you for offering standards-based, DRM-free versions of your books that they know will outlast you, the device-of-the-month, or the DRM format you’re using.
  • Speaking of DRM, stop worrying about piracy. One of our best selling books in electronic form this year is Real World Haskell, which was written out in the open, and is still available in its entirety from the book’s website. For free. This is not an isolated case, and this book has been a commercial success not in spite of its open availability but because of its open availability.

If you’re interested in reviewing the iPhone Missing Manual App, and are willing to share your review on your blog and in the App Store, drop me a line at andrew AT toc.oreilly.com. I have a limited number of promo codes for free access to the App, and it’s first-come, first-served.

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  • http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=299910138&mt=8 Kate Rados

    You may want to note that some app review sites send you an immediate email, after you’ve submitted, asking if you’d like to pay for an ‘expedited review’.

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    Hi Kate,

    Yes, I did experience that (that’s part of what I was alluding to regarding “pay to promote”). It definitely felt a bit icky to get one of those, but I suppose as long as they’re transparent about it, it’s probably here to stay.

  • bowerbird

    it’s astonishing that a crap app like “classics” is on top…
    time for me to crank up my iphone programming chops.

    and stanza should definitely come out with a _voluntary_
    $0.99 app — clearly noting it’s just like the free one –
    for people who would _like_ to support its development,
    just so a _worthy_ effort could knock off that pretender.

    ***

    i didn’t get an answer when i asked if there is a way
    that those of us who bought the app could also get
    the ordinary version of “the missing iphone manual”,
    so i assume we must pay for both formats to get both,
    which is a sad situation (especially if we didn’t know it).

    but you’re glossing over the problem of book-as-app,
    in a way that is unsurprising for people who haven’t yet
    thought about it much. (c’mon, o’reilly, think about it!)

    the problem is that a book should not be an island.
    a book should be integrated into a _library_, so that
    links (for instance) can jump between them, and so
    the library can be searched in one easy operation…

    -bowerbird

    p.s. your captchas _still_ aren’t behaving correctly.

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    @bowerbird: If you buy the Missing Manual from oreilly.com (either the electronic or the print+electronic) you get the Stanza-readable EPUB.

    If you buy the iPhone App, you get the iPhone App, which seems reasonable for the price, and in line with current expectations around the iPhone App Store. So you would need to pay for both if you wanted a standalone iPhone App — but if you just wanted the iPhone Missing Manual on your iPhone (and as part of a library via Stanza) you only need to pay for an ebook bundle via oreilly.com.

    We offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all purchases at oreilly.com, and AFAIK, Apple will refund your purchase price if you’re dissatisfied with an App purchase.

    I didn’t gloss over the limitations of standalone ebook apps — I said that most people buying them simply don’t care. They won’t buy standalone iPhone Apps to add to their personal library of books, they’ll buy books to be read and then very likely discarded to make room for something else. If they’d like something more permanent, they have the choice to purchase through alternate outlets (like print, an online ebook retailer, a publisher’s site like oreilly.com or Stanza).

    You have your preference, other customers have theirs: as Tim said during the first TOC Conference, “Let the Wookie Win”.

    We know the captcha’s not great — we deal with it too. Thanks for the feedback.

  • bowerbird

    > If you buy the Missing Manual from oreilly.com
    > (either the electronic or the print+electronic)
    > you get the Stanza-readable EPUB.
    > If you buy the iPhone App, you get the iPhone App

    that’s paying twice for the same content. which is not —
    let’s face it — the end of the world. but that’s what it is.
    it would be more refreshing if you just owned up to that,
    rather than describing it without ever saying the phrase.

    and i don’t need a “refund”, because i’m not “dissatisfied”.
    but neither do i think this is the path to follow generally;
    e-books shouldn’t be islands; they should live in libraries.

    > I didn’t gloss over the limitations of standalone ebook apps
    > — I said that most people buying them simply don’t care.

    when customers ignore an important dimension, and you fail to
    bring that to their attention, you are glossing over the problem.
    which is not the best path to follow. that’s my opinion, anyway…

    > We know the captcha’s not great — we deal with it too.

    i admire you for not programming a trap-door for yourselves.
    i guess. but when your dogfood tastes bad, improve the taste!

    happy holidays! :+)

    -bowerbird

  • Michael Camino

    I purchased this app. yesterday. What a huge dissapointment. The interface ia near unreadable. It is immposable to find the index or anything else for that matter. A waste of 5 bucks.

  • http://toc.oreilly.com Andrew Savikas

    Hi Michael,

    Sorry you were disappointed with the App — it uses the exact same interface as the hugely successful Stanza App, and overall the feedback has been quite positive. Apple does offer refunds on Apps if you’re not satisfied with your purchase.

  • bowerbird

    dig a little deeper, andrew. you might learn something useful.

    -bowerbird