The App Store and the Long Tail Part 2: The Real "DRM" At Stake

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A few weeks ago I wrote about how the small number of sales from many different countries were adding up to more than the large number of sales from the US in the App Store for our books. That trend has continued (and accelerated), and right now about 60% of our App sales are coming from outside the US:

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When I’ve talked with other publishers about our success with iPhone Apps, they typically discounted what I said because I was talking about iPhone: The Missing Manual, a title particularly suited to the device. And to a degree, that’s a fair argument, and I don’t expect very many other books-as-apps to sell as well as that one. But the results for the next batch of 17 titles is instructive. For the two-week period of July 20 to August 2 (the first two calendar weeks the apps were on sale), five of the 17 titles sold more units as iPhone apps than via print (as measured in Bookscan). Here’s a comparison across all 17 titles:

That got me wondering why there’s not stronger interest from other publishers, especially trade publishers, in iPhone apps (besides concerns about pricing and the approval process). Then as I was looking at rankings for some of the top paid book apps, I spotted a possible answer.

In the App Store, each country has its own top 100 lists (overall and for each category, and for free as well as paid). Something that’s #1 here in the US may not even register on the top 100 in another country. Here’s the current (as of this writing) worldwide rankings for the “Classics” App, the #1 paid book app right now:

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Classics is one of the most popular paid book apps in nearly every country with iPhone service (the list actually goes further down than shown above).

Now here’s the current (as of this writing) worldwide rankings for “Twilight” which has been holding steady in the top 25 paid apps here in the US:

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Yup, that’s it. Just the US. Presumably this is a rights issue — Hachette either doesn’t have the rights to sell this book as an App anywhere else, or they’re choosing not to. But taken in light of our own sales of nearly 2/3 outside the US and the data from Classics, that means a publisher who can’t (or won’t) sell their app outside the States is missing a lot of the market. Here’s the current rankings for the “A Twilight Trivia” app, which is ranked above Twilight in the US (and is not affiliated with Hachette or Stephenie Brown):

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So there’s clear interest in the Twilight content on the iPhone outside the US — enough interest to keep this app well into the top 100 paid book apps in dozens of countries.

Perhaps the most important “digital rights management” at stake right now is that of the rights to sell digital content globally.

If you’re planning to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair, producing and selling digital and mobile content from a global perspective will be a big part of the program at TOC Frankfurt on Oct. 13.

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